Monaco is a game of stealth, infiltration and theft with a laid back attitude and relaxed playability compared to games in the same genre. In other words, the game encourages you to plan and infiltrate, but nothing happens if you're discovered. In fact, deliberately being discovered can even be an extreme method of defense. Monaco's star attraction is its audio-visual experience, which is very unique.
Various methods of theft
Monaco is a story of old-school robbery. The first level sees 4 specialized thieves escaping from a prison. The story evolves from that point, naturally progressing and moving on to bank heists, fleeing from hospitals, infiltrating embassies, shipwrecks and more. It's all very interesting and fun to play.
At the start of Monaco, you've got 4 thieves to choose from on each level. Each has his own strong points, such as the ability to see enemies from far away, excellent lock-picking skills, the thug who has a special way of dealing with security guards, and so on. Each new level offers you new characters, each with their own unique abilities.
Each level of Monaco plays the same, no matter what you are robbing; a bank, an embassy, a boat. You begin outside, must find a way in, breach security on the relevant floors, reach your objective (this could be an object or a person), retrace your steps, and flee.
What I love about Monaco is how everything goes down. Levels are more or less open, and the opportunity for infiltration is pretty frequent. Getting to the end of the level depends on you, the character you've chosen, and how you decide you want to play. Above all, Monaco is very realistic, and as we all know, in real life, it doesn't matter how well you've planned as something can always go wrong.
And go wrong it does. Guards and police are unpredictable, passers-by might get suspicious, telephones ring and draw people to your hiding place, there is CCTV, guard dogs and a mountain of other things that make your job harder.
Don't forget that Monaco also has a multiplayer mode, which makes things really fun, but different. It's much harder to be meticulous when you've got company and things have a tendency to get a little crazy. Monaco's still a great game in multiplayer, it's just very different.
One of Monaco's great virtues is the fact that it's so easy to control. It's simple to jump straight in - you need the keypad to control your character and the mouse for other movements. Even then, there are only two buttons to use - all of your interaction with the environment, for example, is carried out by "pushing" objects. For example, to open a closed door, you push it, and a time meter will let you know how much longer you need to apply pressure. The same goes for hacking computers and picking locks. It's a simple system, but it's so well integrated into the game that it's hard to find fault.
Of the few weapons you have and objects you pick up, you manipulate and/or use them with the mouse.
What really grabs your attention when playing Monaco is the design, which in turn has a direct effect on playability. The game is laid out like architect's blueprints, so the graphics are deliberately flat. You get used to this design after 2 or 3 levels, but at the beginning it's very hard to follow. We'd go as far as to say that at the start of Monaco, you have no idea what you're seeing.
After playing a while though, Monaco begins to make sense. You begin to figure out what the mysterious icons stand for, and the black map that started out looking so weird transforms into a guide that's full of hints and signals. Further more, even the "little square men" begin to show their personalities. Everything falls into place.
The music really adds to Monaco. It's piano music, but it speeds up when you're about to be discovered, becomes tense when things look dangerous, and smooths out when you're already escaping into the distance. It's ironic, clever, and just about perfect.
Not just another heist game
Monaco is wonderful; there's no other way to put it! It's possibly the best game of its kind, and if you're a fan of heist films, you'll definitely be drawn to it. From a player's point of view, it's a breath of fresh air, for your eyes AND your fingers. Monaco lets you play freely, and even though there are a few limits to your exploration, they're there to help you reach your objectives.
The absolutely only negative we could point to is that Monaco can become a little repetitive. It's got nothing to do with the story, it's just that you have to repeat the same actions over and over again. Luckily, level design and the difficulty curve join together to minimize this problem.
Don't be fooled by how weird Monaco looks at first sight, it's really, really worth the effort.