Wot I Think: Monaco

Monaco won the IGF in 2010 with a compelling prototype and a handsome smile. In 2013 it’s being released as a sprawling, brilliantly-composed heist game that is poised, like a ludological cat-burglar, to steal our imaginations. The years of polish show in layers of features and detail, while the core idea that won the IGF – of single or multiplayer replayable heists – continues to produce gold on every playthrough.

This is one of the most important independent games this year, and might well end up being one of the best-loved games of the decade.

Let’s get this straight: Monaco is a fascinating, beautifully-made game. There’s some unevenness. There are some oddities. Some people won’t gel with its pace or its challenge.

It’s brilliant.

Monaco is a meticulous cartoon of thievery and over-the-top smash and grab. It is a top-down perspective tale of complex heists in a world where the usual suspects of crime each have their own unique talents, like the character class formula of Ocean’s 11 distilled down to tiny, racing pixels.

It has a distinct flavour to it, in the way that the best games do. I can’t define this feeling well enough to really articulate it, but there’s a sort of psychic remainder that comes from games having enough of their own inertia to really define themselves. It’s not a game that has borrowed from others, particularly. It is a not a game that leans on other games in the genre for its credibility. Monaco is the guy who is cool because he is himself, not because he does the things other people do really well.

As I was saying: Each character has a unique ability, but can also pick up various bits of equipment that are available to all. So you might choose The Lockpick, for fast opening of doors and containers, but you might also carry a shotgun for dealing with pesky aggressive cops. Each level – there are many and they become huge – is a labyrinth of possible situations for infiltration and exfiltration across multiple floors, and with dozens of tiny challenges to overcome from moment to moment. A guard dog here, a locked door there. Combine the two of those, and you end up getting bitten.

A number of cast members have their own storylines, which takes place across several levels, and progress through these unlocks other characters. You also unlock further levels and storylines as you play, and these are filled with escalating, size, difficulty, and security variables. Each one is set up with mildly amusing backstories for the thefts you’re heading into.

As you find your way through the environments, you must dodge guards and police (as well as the civilians who will alert them) and use both your powers and the environmental quirks to get through to the goal of the heist. Everyone can hack a security tripwire laser, or pick a lock, or hide in a bush, but some characters have extensions of those abilities or entirely different, unrelated abilities. The Gentleman, for example, is disguised when he’s sneaking, so even if he gets seen, he doesn’t actually get seen. If you are playing as The Cleaner then you will be knocking out guards, and using that to make progress.

My two favourite characters, right now at least, are The Hacker and The Mole (and The Gentleman for solo-play). I particularly like The Hacker because he shows off what teeming systems the levels present. While anyone can hack a computer terminal, The Hacker can use plug sockets to send “viruses” spinning around the level infrastructure. This allows you to disable alarmed doors, security cameras, and so on, but it also gives you an idea of how much there is going on in any single building. It’s a beautiful thing to see buzzing around you. It adds more life to a game that already feels fresh and awake and busy.

The Mole, meanwhile, is able to smash through walls and scenery. I like this because it gives the world a sense of malleability, while at the same time offering up some big concessions to AI behaviour – you make a lot of noise breaking through stuff with your sledgehammer, and the nearby NPCs come running to see what’s what – something that certainly shows off the moments where you find yourself chased through the level. And get chased through a level you will.

This point – that I have two favourite characters – sees me run into one of the crucial problems with game reviewing. I haven’t played this all that long, despite having visited it at preview, and dabbled with it for a week or so, and right now it feels like some characters are much stronger and more interesting than others. I could put that down to poor design, or some kind of imbalance. But I’m not sure that’s the case, and I am not sure because I think understanding the true potential of all the characters included here requires far more time, and far more multiplayer. It requires a longer view. A higher viewpoint over an extended exposure to the possibilities of mastering aspects of the game. But let’s come back to that in two paragraphs time.

Monaco’s presentation is odd and yet entirely charming. I am acutely aware that it doesn’t work in screenshots. It really doesn’t look… well, it’s barely comprehensible in static images. Videos aren’t much better. You need to play it. And even then it feels a little inconsistent, perhaps, but at the same time it is rich and super-animate. There’s something not quite right about the characters, but the way they move and the way they act sells their behaviour quite convincingly. It’s the audio that stands out, however, being both precisely informative about what’s going on in the world, as well as very funny.

The maps are presented, in part, as the plans of the buildings you are breaking in to. This, though, is clouded by fog of war, and also line of sight. What is unknown stays black, and what can’t be seen remains grey. What can be seen by a character is a brightly coloured and lively world, although not one that seems to conform to any particular world. It’s vaguely contemporary, and vaguely European, but not distinctly either of those things. I had imagined that Monaco would have some kind of period feel, or some kind of heist-thematic palette to tie it all together, but it does not. There’s something lacking there, although it is not to the detriment of the game in any serious way.

Let’s return to that point about multiplayer. Monaco can be played entirely single-player and offline. You can jump in and play on your own – if you die you have to try again from the last floor change with another character – and doing that allows you to unlock characters and levels. Most people will play like that, I am sure, and it’s well balanced – perhaps sometimes too easy – to get through on your own. But doing so would be missing the larger part of what Monaco is. Just as Borderlands can be played on your lonesome, the game is a much more rewarding experience when being played with others.

The comparison with Borderlands is an interesting and useful one, I suspect, despite the two games being so vastly different, because they both gain something from have 2-4 players. What they gain from adding in those players is quite different, and that sheds light on the nature of their individual designs.

In Borderlands, I would say, the effect on the experience (if not the number of baddies etc) is direct, linearly additive. The more people in a game of Borderlands, the more shit flies, the more damage gets dealt, the more chance you have to be saved from death, and so on. The shooter in it gets MORE. What Monaco gets from adding other players, however, is more like a multiplier, or an even more complex function. The characters are so different, and their powers so wide-ranging, that the possibilities for attacking any given level change quite radically. Hell, The Mole can literally change the layout of the map by putting a hole in the wall. The character abilities, rather than producing more damage, or more healing, as in the shooter, provide a wider range of possible variables within hacking, sneaking, breaching, and so forth.

What this means is that while each level of the game is essential a different experience with each character – The Lookout being able to see NPCs at a distance is quite unlike The Hacker fiddling his way through the electronics – each multiplayer game is an equation made of the different levels versus the abilities of the different characters playing the level. Playing a bank heist with The Cleaner And The Gentleman is almost like a different game to playing it with The Lookout and The Mole. Add another two abilities sets in there and you have a sum of gameplay experiences that look quite radically unlike the other possible sets that await you.

Of course this observation can be balanced by arguing that just legging it, supplemented by hiding, is the most powerful tool for all the characters (at least in some of the early stages), but I feel that also misses the point. What is critical in a heist is elegance, and the role played by the participants in that job. Timing. Getting that plan right, or winging it with grace and precision with things go awry. The levels become so tricky, with some many vectors for failure, that getting things absolutely right requires patience, timing, and multiple tiers of awareness.

Monaco is so often the alternate vision of all those seamless criminal plots where the sexy masterminds have their way with priceless works of art. You will sometimes pull off that perfect caper, but for the most part it’s a chaotic rumble that leads to disaster. You probably will get out alive, maybe, you probably will become a master criminal, eventually, but there are going to be a lot of dead security guards and ringing alarm bells along the way. It is one of those games where it is at its best when your actions are causing an avalanche of jeopardy. This, I suppose, is mostly likely to be Monaco’s weak spot: it’s so easy to screw up that multiplayer games seem bound to spark arguments, in that way that so often happens when pairings are not between friends. You can play with friends, of course, so I’d imagine the RPS Monaco group will spring up soon enough.

Oh, there’s lots of talk about. More than I can fit into this page without your attention drifting. If this game doesn’t generate a lot of talk then I will eat my balaclava and plug my nostril with celery.

What I am saying is: buy Monaco. Play it with people. Enjoy 2013. This year is going to be great.


  1. fishmitten says:

    Any idea of when this will be released for Mac? It’s listed on Pocketwatch’s site, but not on Steam.

    • Zyzzybalubah says:

      Andy has mentioned that the beta for Mac will start not long after release :3 so I wouldn’t expect it to be TOO far down the line!

      • Spooner says:

        Any mention of a Linux version?

      • domukaz says:

        Well, Hotline Miami‘s Mac version took a long time, though every announcement about it said it would come out shortly.

    • calibypolege says:

      Asher. even though Susan`s blog is cool… on friday I got a brand new Mazda since getting a check for $8080 thiss month and also $10,000 lass-month. with-out a doubt this is the easiest-work Ive had. I began this three months/ago and immediately got me more than $72, per/hr. I went to this site wow65.com
      (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

  2. El_MUERkO says:

    Been in the beta for a while and I’ve got to agree it’s an excellent experience, looking forward to COOP with friends as in single-player I’ve had to resort to violence for often than I’d like.

    16:49 GMT: So people are aware, Monaco is now available on Steam but it’s not installing correctly for some people, restarting Steam fixes this in most cases but for some people it requires a couple of restarts while Valve’s servers update.

  3. hbarsquared says:

    Anyone know if this supports local co-op? This looks like a title my wife would love.

    • JustAPigeon says:

      Store page says “Play with up to four people online or on the same screen.”

    • Deathmaster says:

      “The game is playable by up to 4 people both offline and online”

    • captainsteve says:

      Yes, plays perfect on for local co-op. I used 2 Xbox 360 controllers. I got my mostly non-gamer wife playing last night, and we ended up finally quitting after about 3 hours, and looking forward to playing again tonight. Really a lot of fun, and fairly forgiving in the beginning, so no worry about arguments or frustration… as long as you like your wife and she likes you! :)

  4. zain3000 says:

    *Sigh*… not released on Linux. Has anyone given it a try on Wine?

    • Zyzzybalubah says:

      I had a friend try it earlier in the beta on Wine and I believe it was functional, but no guarantees now lol

  5. Voon says:

    You’ve just made me want to watch Ocean’s Twelve again, Jim. God, I love that movie

    • tetracycloide says:

      FWIW the dev prefers out of sight to the ocean movies.

  6. Aaax says:

    This review reads like any of my uni essays for a subject that I don’t care about and want to get finished as soon as possible. Oh well.

  7. Nimrod says:

    Some games just reek of F.U.N. This sounds like one of them. It’s a pity that the single player is “too easy”. I assume from that that The Mole – when controlled by the AI – won’t decide to blow holes in walls willy nilly? That might have been a good thing. Or bad. Still, this is a must play.

    • S Jay says:

      I believe there is never an AI robber. Playing solo means one character only: you.

      At least I *think* so, didn’t play it yet.

    • Wonkyth says:

      What S Jay said is correct: There is never AI-controlled thieves.

      Also, it’s definitely worth noting that yes, the later levels (especially the later boss levels) are VERY hard to clean out solo, especially without taking any damage.

      • Tim McDonald says:

        Good grief, yes. While most of the levels aren’t too difficult to just bodge through, cleaning the later levels out 100% is incredibly tricky, particularly when playing solo – and you’ll want to clean them out.

  8. Dan Puzey says:

    Are the multiplayer maps the same as the single player? Does having multiple abilities available at a time not reduce the challenge somewhat?

    • Zyzzybalubah says:

      Multiplayer maps and single-player maps are the same!

      As for having multiple abilities in Multiplayer, I would argue the game is more challenging. Not only does the game get out of control more quickly (all FOUR players tripping alarms, alerting guards, etc), but you cannot simply die and revive as another character, your teammates MUST revive you to continue. So it’s more of a struggle for survival at that point. Heh.

      • Dan Puzey says:

        Ah, I see. Multiple characters sounds like increased flexibility, but it seems that may not be the case!

  9. Kemuel says:

    I thought “The Mole” was gonna be an infiltratory dude, like a mole within an organisation. A very literal mole who can dig through walls and scenery is just so much more awesome.

  10. GreatUncleBaal says:

    Have been following the development of this game since RPS first started covering it, it’s been one of the games releases I’ve been most looking forward to for a long time. Can’t wait to get at it later today.

  11. AndySchatz says:

    Gonna be a little busy today but I just wanted to pop in here to say to RPS readers that you are the best of the internet. I love you guys and gals. You made the best beta testers and I always appreciate the general humor and maturity of this little enclave. Monaco owe a lot of thanks to you guys. Thank you!

    • derbefrier says:

      Good luck! Can’t wait to get off work and dive into the game

    • Col says:

      Hi Andy, a couple of questions: I currently have only one XBOX gamepad – is it possible for me to play two player co-op with a mate, me on keyboard, him on the pad? I also have a PS3 pad, if I used one of those free pad emulation utils would Monaco recognise that as a second controller? (I assume it would, but just wondering if you could confirm?)

      Thanks! Looking forward to playing!

      • Timmeister says:

        Yeah you can have multiple control methods for local co-op, so the xbox controller and the keyboard for sure. As for the emulation I have no idea

      • Zyzzybalubah says:

        Hey! In case Andy is busy (and I KNOW he is), I may provide some answers :3

        First off, you CAN have two players on a single computer, one on a gamepad, and one on a keyboard. As a standard setting, you can have one person on keyboard and then three others on gamepads, though FEASIBLY there is a way to put multiple players on a keyboard, as one of the beta testers figured out by changing a .ini file.

        Second, you can use a Dualshock 3 for sure! One of the beta testers started out with it, using MotionInJoy software.

        Hope that helps!

        • Col says:

          Timmeister, Zyzzybalubah – thanks to you both! Andy owes you each a pint as I’m now off to buy this game on Steam…

    • The Pink Ninja says:

      Thanks, glad you finally released it :P

      I think this and Dead State are the only games in years where I have regularly checked to see if releases dates have been announced. Other games don’t really get my attention until they’ve been out for six months and are on sale.

      Glad to see the feedback has been so positive.

      • S Jay says:

        Yeah, same here. Dead State is a long way from defining a release date. :/

    • Wonkyth says:

      Captain my captain. o7

    • G-Lord says:

      Thanks for popping in Andy. Already bought the game and I almost can’t wait to play it. Want to get some friends to my place first though.

  12. Squire says:

    Grabbed this yesterday from official site, only £8.80 instead of £10.79 on steam and you get the steam key anyway – link to pocketwatchgames.com

    Prototype is super funs so I’m looking forward to some [borderline erotic] 4P coop. Get me on steam as TexasWilly.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I tried to support the makers directly, but unfortunately PayPal is run by incompetent fuckwits, so I’ll have to buy it off steam instead.

    • gripen40k says:

      The dev has said that it’s better to get it on steam right now so the game goes to the top of the charts and gets a lot more exposure:

      link to reddit.com

  13. Lusketrollet says:

    Make it more single-player friendly, and we’ll talk.

    • terry says:

      Erm, it plays just fine singleplayer. Maybe try reading the article next time?

      • Lusketrollet says:

        It “plays just fine singleplayer” the same way Magicka “plays just fine singleplayer”. That is; it’s technically *possible* to play it single-player, but it will be a much worse experience, have much less content, give the slight, nagging feeling that the developer genuinely dislikes you for it and considers you a second-class citizen, and generally just be a worse version of the multiplayer.

        • JackShandy says:

          “Just as Borderlands can be played on your lonesome, the game is a much more rewarding experience when being played with others.”

          This mirrors what I’ve heard: The game is fun on your own, and you still get 100% of the content in singleplayer. It’s just that Co-op is so good that it overshadows it. Really you’re punishing the dev for making co-op too fun.

          You should try playing a game co-op some time, it’s pretty fun.

        • Gnoupi says:

          Magicka was really made around the idea that you can die easily and be revived easily (both by the hands of your teammates). As such, the single player suddenly became some hardcore mode, highly punishing and not that fun. I really love Magicka, but playing it alone was a chore.

          Having played both, I can assure that Monaco doesn’t feel that way at all. When played single, it feels and plays good too. Coop is just adding more chaos (or large plans) to that, but it’s perfectly enjoyable by yourself. (well, at least for as far as I played, so around 8 levels)

        • Heimdall2061 says:

          I’ve just finished the first campaign of the game. I can tell you certainly that this game is absolutely fun to play in single player. I really enjoy playing it multiplayer, and I think it adds a lot to the game, but the single player is still quite excellent.

  14. The Pink Ninja says:

    Is there any sort of RPS groups for this? Because if there is I might get it right now D:

    • notenome says:

      Now there is:

      RPS Monaco

      Send me a message good sir and I shall add thee, using the rps semi official mumble.

  15. Machinations says:

    4 pack purchased

    while I have 3 people playing right away, looking for a fourth. if there is a laid-back RPS’er who enjoys playing for fun and does not have a group they plan to play with, message me on Steam (or send me a PM or reply to this thread)

    may I also suggest an RPS group for this game – its the type of game you want to play with people who are not going to rage and who can laugh at mistakes – basically made for real-life friends, but I know not everyone knows a full group to play with or would like to play with others who are nice

  16. HexagonalBolts says:

    Bought! Any of the DOTA chums fancy a game? Hopefully at least -this- will work on my Peruvian internet!

    • notenome says:

      Hello there Hex, long time no see. I have crafted a Monaco RPS group:

      RPS Monaco

      Send me a message good sir and I shall add thee, using the rps semi official mumble.

  17. karthink says:

    Is there a DRM-free version on sale anywhere? It’s not on GOG from what I can tell.

    • Zyzzybalubah says:

      Yep! You can buy a DRM-free version on the Humble store direct from the Monaco website: link to pocketwatchgames.com

      • MrStones says:

        That’s definitely not just a steam key is it? I’m hovering over the purchase button on that link but the only mention of DRM-free I can see is for Monte Carlo. It’s the Humble store so it’s gotta be DRM-free right?

        Sorry if i’m being a bit thick, very hungover

        • idolminds says:

          From what I can tell its a Steam key. The DRM-free part is the prototype. However, I also found a tweet that indicates the game is “DRM-free” even on Steam, but it requires Steam for online play, leaderboards, and achievements. So…guess it depends on your definition of DRM-free. link to twitter.com

        • Zyzzybalubah says:

          It should provide as steam key as well as a DRM-free version, but seeing as it requires Steam for multiplayer, it wouldn’t be the FULL experience. Still, I LOVE LOVE LOVE single player :D

          • jnik says:

            Requires Steam for local multiplayer, too?

            From the website, as far as I can tell, if I plunk down my cash and don’t want to deal with Steam, all I get is the 2010 prototype. Of course, I used to think Humble Store would reliably give me a standalone installer, but since they’ve gone Steam-key only for some of the bundles it’s hard to tell.

          • MrStones says:

            I think i’ll hang on and see how offline it actually is. I was looking forward to this to for some local multiplayer on the laptop while offshore and internet is hard to come by when your on a random boat off the coast of god knows where. Another summer of Civ IV and 4player Snes roms might just kill me, a man can only take so much Bomberman

  18. Dervish says:

    What’s with the neon haze everywhere? Does it represent/indicate anything? I understand the line of sight/fog of war stuff just fine, but it looks like all the glowy light is making things hard to see and I don’t know why.

    • Zyzzybalubah says:

      It’s mostly hidden ambient lighting. Just a stylistic thing, but I like to think of it as what makes Monaco Monaco! There are lots of different brightness and lighting they have to play around with so it’s different for each level!

      I personally think it’s just hard to understand what’s going on in screenshots. When you get into the game and you are close to the action, everything is very easy to understand :D

  19. notenome says:

    Created an RPS Monaco steam group for the game:

    RPS Monaco

    Send me a message good sir and I shall add thee, good sir/madam.

  20. DonJefe says:

    Well, I am sold. And I bought it too. Which I really couldn’t afford. It’s on your head now, Rossignol :)

  21. Lambchops says:

    I’ll probably bite – since it seems the single player is worth it. And if I can find the time (and I don’t turn out to be embarrassingly incompetent!) I might even indulge in a game or two with fellow RPSers.

  22. arccos says:

    A few questions for anyone who cares to answer.

    Does it have matchmaking with random Internet folks? Or do you have to figure out your group before hand?

    Does it have integrated voice chat? Although I guess with Steam you can just do it that way.

    Does it support modding or adding new maps? Seems like that would be a great addition.

    • AndySchatz says:

      Yes, matchmaking with strangers is supported (so is playing with friends)
      Integrated voice chat: YES
      Editor will be released soon! (in beta, or maybe alpha)

  23. FriendlyFire says:

    Rascal Pickpocket Swindler?

  24. Akke says:

    It’s a shame that it requires a Xbox controller to play local multiplayer. It’s a bigger shame that there was no warning about this when buying.

    – update: got it work using x360ce, but it’s still unfortunate.

    • derbefrier says:

      check the steam forums i believe i saw a stickied post on how to play with at least 2 people on one keyboard.anymore than that i would imagine would be quite ridiculous and not very fun

  25. Michael Fogg says:

    Kairo, Monaco… what’s next? Ulan Bator?

  26. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Been looking forward to this for quite a while & now all my friends are busy :(

  27. Vinraith says:

    So is this actually out, or is it still in beta? Also, are there any plans to make it available outside of Steam?

    • VanishedDecoy says:

      The full game is out and you can buy the drm-free version (the steam free version) from the game’s website.

  28. drvoke says:

    So.. is this worthwhile for someone who doesn’t have friends to play with? I refuse to play MP with strangers, and nobody I know has any intentions to buy this. I like the concept, but it looks like you need more than one player to bring out the full potential of the game.

    Still waiting for a modern remake of The Clue!…

  29. LionsPhil says:

    Since we appear to have the devs’ eyes: any chance of some kind of demo?

    And what’s with the 20% price discrepancy?

  30. Continuity says:

    Fine I’ll buy it.

    No all I have to do is convince my friends to join me…

  31. domukaz says:

    Glad to hear the game turned out so well! I preordered it in excitement when I learned about the release date.

    Any word on how long before the Mac beta comes out? I used to check Hotline Miami’s Twitter feed each day, thinking it would come much earlier than it did. I don’t want to pay the same close attention to Monaco if it’s still a ways off.

  32. The Dark One says:

    This game is a blast.

  33. Orogenesis says:

    Is the RPS group up and running? This is a game that most of my steam or real life friends don’t have yet so I need competent chaps to play with!

    Quite the charming little title so far…I just wish the characters would look more identifiably human rather than some weird robot/aliens

    Imagine the same game but with well animated little human figures with a nice hat for the gentlemen, a hood for the hacker etc
    I feel the aesthetic could’ve gone in a more “realistic” direction and remained solid…but the developer had his idea and went with it…you have to respect that.