Similarly to the rag-tag band of thieves it portrays, Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine is essentially a series of ideas jostling with each other in a chaotic game of one-upmanship. Sometimes said ideas work together well to create a satisfying and cohesive experience; the player (or players) can work with the game and it’s mechanics to pull off brilliantly planned and executed heists, much like any well-oiled crime machine. But all too often the cogs fall apart, the game becomes a brutal and punishing ordeal, and the machine breaks down. Monaco’s machine is full of brilliant ideas; it just needs a large amount of maintenance before these ideas can be fully realized.
Set in a top down, minimalistic version of Monaca (who’d have thought?), What’s Yours is Mine is a co-operative heist game that allows the player to utilize different character archetypes and their corresponding abilities to pull off robberies, escapes and rescues. These stock characters are all homages to classic heist movie stables (the Hacker, the Mole, the Locksmith etc.) and getting to know their strengths is essential if you want to be anything close to a competent thief.
Each level places the player in a top down, floor plan view of a location in a similar vein to Hotline Miami. From here the player(s) must extract one or more valuable items or people, whilst optionally cleaning the area of gold coins that have been haphazardly strewn about the place. Although clearing a level of coins will unlock bonus levels and keep you stocked with valuable equipment (such as dynamite, ammo, smoke bombs), you will also run a higher risk of being caught in the act by patrolling guards, cameras, lasers and civilians.
Probably the most arduous part of playing Monaco is its difficulty curve, a curve that is violently steepened by the game’s overabundance of variables and mechanics. At first, levels are simple in their layout and relatively easy to manoeuvre alone with certain characters. Later levels, however, are so chock-full of different obstacles and variables that things become very frustrating and hard to swallow. Throughout a heist you might come across guards with batons, guards with machine guns, guards with sleeper darts, civilians who will warn guards, cameras, trip wires, computers to hack, doors to unlock, dogs that will sniff you out; and this is only scratching the surface of how full of challenges each Monaco level is. The variety is entertaining at first, but soon become overwhelming.
This overload of ideas and information would be far less problematic if there was a warning of what types of things might be found in each level. For example, if the game were to tell me that “The next mission is full of computers to be hacked and electronic devices that need to be shut down”, I’d know to play as the Hacker. As it is though, there’s no indication as to what will appear in each level, and I’d often find my Hacker blundering into a technology-less mission with nowhere to apply his unique skills. This means that trial and error is the only viable way for you to approach a new level.
This is to say nothing of the often erratic and unpredictable behaviour of guards and civilians, whose reactions and observational skills range from eagle eyed to brain dead. Although there are occasionally bushes and vents to hide in if guards begin to give chase, there are just as many rooms in a level where there aren’t any means of escape, and the only viable solution is to run blindly into an as of yet un-explored room and hope it isn’t full of gun toting guards and turrets.
Where Hotline Miami increased its difficulty curve by keeping the same basic gameplay, and simply changing layouts and enemy numbers, Monaco piles on layer after layer of unending traps and obstacles to catch you out, rendering the experience troublesome and infuriating.
Things get far easier in co-op mode, because two or more characters can be used to form a cohesive team of thieves. Approaching a level with the combined skills of the Mole (used for knocking down walls to create alternate paths), the Lookout (can sense enemies throughout the map) and the Cleaner (can knock out unsuspecting guards) is far more satisfying and manageable than attempting to go it alone. Co-op play leads to detailed planning, interesting teamwork choices and actually affords a level of patience and forethought that cannot be found in the game’s solo experience.
Simply put, Monaco was built to be a co-op game. Teaming up to clean out a level affords the player so much more agency and ability that it actually renders the single player option obsolete. Tackling things with friends often offers up Ocean’s-esque levels of heist hijinks, whilst playing alone is more like trying to rob a bank in oven mitts and a blindfold.
Monaco’s frantic, cascading piano score is a fitting accompaniment to the fast, chaotic gameplay (although once again, your mileage may vary depending on whether you’re swimming in gold coins or contemplating suicide), and the game’s bold, blocky visual style is at least un-intrusive, if a little lacking in identity. Although the game’s story is just a way to link each level together, it is often amusing to see the characters converse with each other in their knowingly clichéd ways.
After it caused me so much frustration and confusion, it would be easy to hate Monaco. But after further application and perseverance I came to the conclusion that What’s Yours is Mine is simply a game that requires so much of a person; too much, in fact, for a single person. There are just far too many systems and mechanics present in each Monaco level to be consumed, processed and dealt with by most people, that team play is practically a necessity.
Once you do attempt a heist with friends though, the ball starts rolling, and you’ll find that Monaco is exactly like Ocean’s Eleven or Charlie Croker’s crew from The Italian Job. Things only work correctly when everyone is pulling together at the same time. When they do, the result is a unique and ambitious triumph. When they don’t, the result is a chaos of the most maddening kind.
An ambitious, unique, but ultimately flawed game that toys with so many interesting ideas, it just can’t deliver them in a well rounded or cohesive way. Monaco does deserve praise, though, for it’s utterly brilliant approach to co-op gameplay. It’s just a shame that said co-op gameplay renders and single player enjoyment moot.