You begin with four heist archetypes – the Lockpick, Lookout, Pickpocket and Cleaner – and from there, it's one celebration of heist fiction tropes after another. Monaco is firmly rooted in a romantic vision of sleuthing around in the shadows, surviving close calls with suspicious guards, and barely making off with the loot to see another day. Its interesting presentation and co-op dynamic approximate the excitement of a big score similar to films like Ocean's Eleven or The Bank Job, but it never manages to evolve from that inspiration into something uniquely memorable or eminently playable.
Monaco tells the tale of the aforementioned quartet of thieves' escape from the titular city, but you'll find other willing criminals with their own unique skill sets as you go along, too. There are brief dialogue exchanges between the cast before going out on a job, and while it's written and presented interestingly enough, the story – such as it is – peters out before it even really gets going. It's not that the storyline was ever the intended focus of the game, but it's nonetheless a bummer that what starts out as a fun escape plot gets tied down in endless, sloppy excuses to extend the game. You're supposed to be a band of thieves, but it seems as though even the most baseline preparations were forgotten. One level's setup has you robbing a bank because, oh yeah, maybe you might need money to illicitly get a group of people across international borders. During that robbery, your characters are injured. The next mission has you risking your necks while you're already wanted to obtain medical supplies. I suppose nobody had the foresight to see that heisting is dangerous work. Eventually, the game's writers themselves admit defeat with a mission objective that lampoons the fact that, well, the objectives don't make much sense.
Playing Monaco is simple, but thankfully far more satisfying than the story. From an overhead perspective, you navigate what is essentially a living blueprint of the surrounding area. At first, you'll mostly see a dark-ish background with white outlines of walls, doorways and other basic information. Rooms have fat labels in the middle of them – “Kitchen,” “Psych Ward.” Once you begin to move for the first time, though, you realize that the blueprint represents your character's range of vision. Step through a doorway, and the map's fog of war lifts, dynamically revealing your sight and giving you live intel on the immediate area. The various environments you'll pilfer from are rendered in very simple sprites and bold, sweeping gradients of colour that look nice and make it easy to quickly parse all the text and icons on screen at a given time. The jazzy, piano-centric tunes certainly don't hurt the playability, either. Your overall task is simple – stay out of sight, sneak to an important item on the far end of the level, and then make your way back to the getaway vehicle near the beginning. To that end, you can hold a button to sneak slowly past enemies who would otherwise hear your footsteps, collect and use gear like EMP charges and smoke grenades to slip past craftier defences like laser grids, or use your right stick to aim the occasional ballistic weapon around. It's all fairly expected stuff, but the basic movement feels good, and popping your gear is simple and satisfying.
You can get through the game solo, but as you might envision, Monaco's heist-caper soul resonates strongest with multiple players. Up to four can team up either online or locally on a single screen – even on PC – but for some reason, you can't mix online and offline players into a single game. Terminals and other hackable implements reward splitting up and helping your teammates maneuver while working out your own path. The together-but-separate synergy you can achieve with a synchronous team can feel totally amazing at times, but pulling off heists does have a disappointingly diminished return by the end of the adventure. There are a lot of individual levels in Monaco, each taking several minutes to complete, and many of them frequently repeat ideas and roadblocks to complete a mission. Along with the minimalistic visuals, it all started to feel a little too similar to me. Later chapters require a certain number of prior levels to be 100% completed before unlocking, which can mean making some uninteresting return visits. It was also around this stage of the game that I realized you typically outpace any patrolling guards by a large degree while running, often leaving you free to run laps around the area while their AI lags behind, trip alarms to collect gold, and dash to the next floor where the alert phase is lifted. The integrity of Monaco is maintained so long as you're working with a group of people who legitimately want to take the stealthy approach, but when that's not the case, or the going gets tough, it's hard to resist just cheesing the mission all the way to the exit, ignoring the stealth conceit entirely.
It's too bad that these pacing and difficulty issues hold Monaco back, because its relentlessly charming presentation and enjoyable capering form a great foundation for fun, whether you're playing with others or by your lonesome. Even when its faults are laid most bare, though, this is a solid video game, and one worth inspecting if you've got a group of friends lined up for it.