I’ve never liked stealth games. That results partially from an inability to co-ordinate myself in a manner befitting a one legged man with an inner-ear affliction, let alone a special operations guy, but also because I’ve generally found them tedious and unforgiving to the extreme. It’s a sad state of affairs where you can’t even run around gunning down every guard you see without someone raising a fuss!
Of course, I kid. No, my trouble mainly arose from Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid on the occasions I deigned to boot them up. The former was terribly difficult and the latter interminably dull, neither of which are positive things for a game to be called – and I think I’ve come up with the solution. Make jobs matter less. In those games, you’re a super soldier out to save the world. In Monaco, you’re some dudes who rob banks – and that’s much better.
See, Monaco is old-school, and I’m not just talking about the graphical style, which is top-down and sprited. It’s stealth games as they would have been done in the arcade days, although it would have been much easier to die and I didn’t find myself pushing quarters into my disc drive.
You play as one of a few different characters, all with different applicable skills like fast lockpicking, the ability to knock out unsuspecting guards and the skills to tunnel through walls. You use these to sneak through levels, dodging guards and civilians and usually stealing some sort of treasure.
Any guards alerted to your presence have a moderately quick filling question mark bar on their heads to indicate their level of suspicion and if you can hide yourself away in time, they’ll drop the matter. Let it fill, though, and they will give chase until you flee the area.
Unlike other stealth games though, it’s not game over should you get caught – there are messy, but effective, get out clauses. For those of you who like your carnage blood soaked, there are guns, which kill guards in one shot but have limited ammunition and leave corpses for later patrols to find. Their ammunition can be replenished by collecting the coins littered about the levels, but that often means putting yourself in the way of other guards, so it becomes a genuine choice of how to proceed rather than a cruddy moral choice system of the type that have been so popular recently.
Then there are smoke bombs, which obscure the guards’ view and allow you to run away if you can find a route. I usually took this opportunity to circle around behind them and knock them out, but I believe it’s intended for quick getaways. It’s a nice addition that takes into account both the fact that people can screw up and that some players may wish to accomplish their tasks bloodlessly.
What’s nice about Monaco is the way in which it allows organic solutions to problems. If you find yourself walking down a hallway with an approaching guard, you have several options open. You can shoot your way out, throw down a smoke bomb and run away, or don a disguise and attempt to slip by before the guard realises there’s anything wrong.
There’s also the fact that the graphical style works really well. See, although the game is top down, you’re only able to see things that would be in the character’s line of sight. This adds an element of tension as you peer round corners and peek through windows in order to determine when it’ll be safe to run. Plus it’s fun to spy on guards as they write letters to their loved ones.
It also has a dynamic soundtrack that changes according to how much trouble you’re in, and manages to do it in a really immersive and cool way. There’s little more tense than ragtime piano music following you as guards search frantically for your hiding place and it’s very atmospheric in quieter moments as well. I did a bit of searching and found that it was composed by Austin Wintory, the audio auteur behind the sublime soundtrack for Journey, which is a hell of a celebrity endorsement in the world of video games.
Of course, I would be remiss to fail to mention that Monaco is multiplayer, and a well-planned heist may well be even more satisfying to pull off with multiple people involved. Still, being a twisted, friendless misanthrope, I have thus far failed to play it. Still, bear in mind that since the game is very addictive solo, I can only imagine the team element works great too.
If you want to play through what is essentially a stylised heist movie, with excellent sneaking mechanics, a brilliant soundtrack and organic, flowing gameplay, you should go and buy Monaco. Otherwise, I guess you can always pay three times as much for Metal Gear Solid V. 88%.