Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine- A text review

Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine review

What is it about indie games nowadays? They operate on a limited budget and are therefore compelled to deliver more limited experiences than AAA titles, but, unlike AAA games, if they overstep their ambitions with some mediocre implementation, they get praised as "unique" and "original" where bigger budget games get thrown under the bus. Recent games like FTL, The Organ Trail and Hotline Miami are some examples of indie games getting away with some pretty gaping gameplay design issues, all in the name of the"losing is fun" mantra going around nowadays. That mantra neatly sidesteps its own philosophy with such games by forgetting precisely Why it's so fun to lose in some games. Losing in a well-designed, and more importantly well-implemented, game works precisely because it isn't the faulty design that cost the player his/her life, it was the players' own error. The satisfaction of overcoming our own faults to triumph in a game is way more fun than losing to randomly generated, arbitrary design elements. Monaco: WYIM is a mixture of those opposing elements, a frankenstein combo of frustration and elation. In other words, it's not for everyone, and i'm about to show you why.

Gameplay
Monaco: WYIM is a class-based stealth-heist hybrid, set in a stylized version of Monaco, a veritable hive of scum and villainy, through which you are to pull off your many capers. You play as one of several cons, with differing abilities and personalities, as you sneak and steal your way through a myriad of heavily guarded facilities, in search of the all important high score. Oh and loot, lots of loot. Every level has a primary objective, but the secondary, and more challenging, objective is to clean out the levels of every single coin. Cleaning out an entire level helps unlock more chapters in the alternative story arc, which offers up even more opportunities to steal coins, even if it merely retreads many locations from the primary story.

Standing between you and your precious coins are various enemies and obstacles, which can often be overcome by smart movements, your chosen character's innate abilities, or just by running around like a chicken with its head cut off. The enemies most often come in the form of bumbling security guards wielding clubs, but eventually you will face down more heavily armed foes and the difficulty ramps up immensely as a result. If you are playing as a lone wolf, you will eventually run into an almost literal brick wall of difficulty, as certain missions are nearly unplayable as a single player. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that certain levels are heavily suited to certain character types more than others, to the point of pretty much making it impossible to complete certain levels without losing a character, either forcing a restart or leaving you with a depleted roster if you go forward..

The enemy Ai isn't particularly bright, as they will easily lose you if you possess even a small awareness of the various hiding spots on the level, or can simply outrun them, but they make up for it with strength of numbers and some cheaply unavoidable enemies. Dogs will become the bane of your sneaky existence, as they will sniff out your trail or simply randomly catch your scent even if you were nowhere near their patrol paths. Helicopters will occasionally enter the picture too, and they have the uncanny ability to spot you even if they are facing away from you and are across the map. Enemies like these bring down the fun of sneaking past incompetent guards, and simply highlight the opposing philosophies that plague the game. On the one hand it encourages being as stealthy as possible, via the subtle tension induced by its line of sight and locational sound elements, on the other it wants to emulate the Benny Hill show, via its rag-time soundtrack reminiscent of silent comedies and the large amount of punishment your character can take if detected by those unavoidable enemies.

It's unfortunate that the game is so opposed to the thrilling process of stealthing your way through each scenario, as successfully collecting each coin without detection is one of the most satisfying experiences to be had. The best stealth titles treat each scenario as a puzzle to be solved rather than brute-forced and the game has a few levels that exemplify the best in stealth gameplay, but they become increasingly rare as the game plods on. More frequently the game has a nasty habit of throwing a bewildering array of obstacles and cheap foes at you, to the extent that it's literally impossible to stealth your way through some scenarios, even with some friends helping you along. More often than not, I ended up dashing around the map, with every guard on the map chasing me, as I frantically searched for the remaining randomly generated coins. (Note to developers: don't include randomly generated elements as a replacement for depth and replayability, it's cheap and obvious, and won't endear yourself to many people)

In the event that you do end up being discovered, you have a few options to defend yourself. Several missions supply you with various weapons, but they have vaguely explained amounts of ammunition that can only be supplied by finding coins. More than a few times I found myself running dry without any indication of my ammo state beforehand. This means that weapons are ostensibly only there as a last resort, but then some levels throw crowds of guard alerting civilians into the mix, or simply a full infantry division armed with machine guns, and then you realize that the game wasn't thought through fully enough for you to not waste precious supplies getting a single coin from the middle of a crowded room. Running away is often the best policy in the event of discovery since, even if you do take out some guards, others will come along and magically resurrect them (with some spectacularly disgusting sound effects to boot).

In the end, the game exposes itself as a multiplayer focused title by simply being too unbalanced against you for single player, which raises the question of why the game even includes a single player option in the first place. I eventually became desperate enough to call in some random players for aid, and the game did indeed become more fun for the first little bit with my newfound crew, but then we ran into another brick wall and my crew disbanded prematurely, with naught but a whimper.

The game seems to want you to pull off an oceans eleven style heist with style and speed, but it presents few options for pulling off that perfect heist and seems to only want you to bumble your way through a level, trailing guards like a conga line. Admittedly funny the first couple of times, that aspect quickly becomes more and more frustrating as plans are abandoned in favour of anarchy, which isn't the least bit skillful or satisfying to pull off.

The rapidly climbing difficulty and cheap enemies don't distract from the earlier, and best, missions though. As mentioned, several missions approach classic territory with a perfect balance of stealthy skill and difficulty. When the game focuses on its quiet strengths, it shines and everything else comes off in a better light. But when a game seems at odds with itself at every turn, it's hard to justify calling it a great game.

Story
The story in monaco is vague and dialogue heavy. A lot of stuff happens offscreen, or is merely described in between missions. This minimalist approach actually suits the cloak and dagger tone of the game. This is truly a rag-tag bunch of con men, and their attempts to escape the authorities makes for a compelling experience in its own right. the limitations of the story, mainly in its presentation can be a bit problematic, with events like a bomb blast and a car hijacking simply being offscreen events that set up the levels, rather than a dynamic element that could have had more impact. As such, progressing through the main story (named the locksmith's story) and cleaning out levels unlocks an alternative story arc, slightly altering existing scenarios to fit the pickpocket's recollection of events. It's a nice bonus, but playing through old levels with slightly re-arranged guard and coin placements gets old fast.

The characters you begin with and acquire are all nicely developed over the course of things, sure they all pretty much have only one defining character trait, but they fit the theme of the game as a crew of thieves. You acquire more characters over time and they bring their own unique personalities and specialties into the fold. From an over hyper hacker, to a calm and collected locksmith, there are some memorable characters here to get familiar with. Even in-game there are some nice moments of development. Such as a guard who continually gets fired from his jobs, only to encounter the thieves responsible for his low job security. His increasingly hilarious emails are a nice touch, and i'm glad I found them.

Art Design
This game has some charming art design, utilizing old-school graphics to create a colorful world. The combination of colors and blocky character models helps give the game a cartoony feel which, while at odds again with its stealth gameplay, gives a comedic edge to the proceedings. The jerky animations and easy to identify traits of enemies and player characters give the whole game a unique identity.
There are a few problems with the limited graphical style. It's very easy to hide behind what you think is suitable cover, only to be instantly spotted. It's also a bit hard to tell sometimes what constitutes a doorway or a mere window, which can be fatal to an escape plan from dozens of chasing guards to say the least.
These problems aren't a major deal breaker though, as the style is charming enough to get its point across without much fuss, and it's quite easy to simply absorb the finer details of a level and appreciate them. Like a few random corpses in a hospital, or the aforementioned unlucky guard. It's always a treat to find details like that in a game, and the art design almost makes up for the unbalanced gameplay.

Music And Sound Design
Likewise, the music by Austin Wintory brings its own charm brigade to the game. It's detuned pianos and jazzy inflections give the various levels a charged comedic atmosphere. The chaotic piano flails when being chased add a nice bit of tension, while the silence that comes from evading the guards is a nice release. There are many flaws with this game, but the music is not one of them.

The sound design is both a strength and a weakness, while the frantic breathing and locational foosteps make every close call a heart-attack inducing tension bomb, it also highlights the obvious disparity between the stealth and comedic aspects of this game. If the devs wanted it to be a stealth game, then why tilt the level design in favour of comedic anarchy? If they wanted the anarchy, then why introduce the rewarding stealth elements? It's not the sound design's fault that the game is so bipolar, but it does contribute.

Conclusion
In the end Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine is a charming little stealth action title that eventually gets bogged down with conflicting gameplay design elements and a punishing difficulty curve. While getting a group of other players to help you in the heists can be incredibly fun, the same problems eventually arise there too. While many games can coast off of the "losing is fun" mania going around the indie circuit, this is not one of them, as it's opposing elements simply don't fit with each other in a fun way.

Pros:
-Intuitive Controls

-Great Music and Sound Design

-A charming art style.

-Some levels approach classic territory.

Cons:
-Conflicting design elements detract from any fun to be had

-difficulty hits a brick wall if playing single player, only slightly less hard in multiplayer

-some levels are utterly unbalanced for certain character builds

-some enemies are incredibly cheap.

Rating: 3/5 Average

 

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