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At first glance, it’s kind of hard to tell what Monaco even is. It’s been shown at various trade shows for the past few years and has garnered a solid amount of hype and buzz behind it, but without a full release, it was hard to really nail down what made Monaco so special.

Well, it’s out now, and after actually playing it, I’ve seen the magic right before my eyes. Monaco is essentially an Ocean’s 11 simulator — and it’s awesome.

Simply put, Monaco is a heist simulator from a top-down perspective. The entire game is engineered to support up four players, but every level can be played solo as well. You’ll utilize one of eight different personalities, such as The Mole, who can dig through walls, or The Cleaner, who can knock out enemies from behind (think Metal Gear Solid chokeholds). Some classes are more effective than others (the Mole feels particularly overpowered in my experience), but the game works because everyone can function enough to complete a stage without abilities — I’m talking menial tasks like unlocking doors, hacking PCs, and so on. Surprisingly, despite the complexity of everything on paper, gameplay is actually quite simple — run into obstacles or objects to use them, sneak with one button, and use items with the other — that’s it!

Items range from tools like shotguns, EMP blasts, and medical kits — in order to power them up for more uses, you have to collect coins scattered across the level. As you can see, given the finite amount of treasure, it makes it clear that you won’t be able to get into every mission guns blazing; you’ll have to use your wits to best each stage. From tactics like distracting guards to hacking security systems, you’ll use your environment in any way possible to accomplish your goal.

Speaking of goals, Monaco has 33 missions to choose from, with the ability to unlock a second campaign by “cleaning out” (picking up every single piece of gold) each stage. Each arena isn’t just a throwaway experience, as they all have a tiny story sequence before them, weaving into the larger overall narrative of deception and mystery. The second set of story levels is told from the perspective of another crew member, and using  the in media res storytelling tactic, explains a similar, yet different set of events from his point of view. It’s a bit tougher than the core bundle of levels, so it’s a nice way to slowly introduce tougher concepts to the player without overwhelming them. Oh, and there’s also a surprise final stage, and a pure multiplayer PVP level.

From a visual standpoint, Monaco has charm in spades. Although a few of the in-game models are a bit rough, unique aspects like the blueprint-style map that fills in as you view it and the hilarious sounds of the clinks and clanks of the game world help draw you in. Austin Wintory’s soundtrack also adds to the atmosphere, as the old timey piano tunes and more contemporary tracks round out the music.

While multiplayer has a bit more variety as to how you approach each mission and how they play out (more on that in a second), solo missions often drill down to “steal this” affairs. Some of the stages tend to blend together after a while, and unless you mix it up with multiplayer very so often, you might find yourself taking a break from time to time. Also, a few of the levels have vague goals with very little direction, so without a group of players putting their brains together it can be a bit annoying to aimlessly search the same few floors twice over.

But should you choose to take advantage of the local or online capabilities of Monaco, the tension the game builds is pretty off the charts. For instance, as you’re slowly picking a lock, a guard may be right around the corner, ready to catch you red-handed in an alley. Sometimes you’ll get the door open in time, sometimes you’ll spring for an auto-lockpick, and in other scenarios, you’ll be throwing down a smoke bomb with your back to the wall. Even if you replay the game’s set missions, every experience will no doubt differ with all of the above variables to account for.

You really can’t replicate the hilarious feeling of all-out chaos quite like Monaco. While the game is most certainly meant to be played with grace, at times, it can feel straight-up like Bomberman, because make no mistake: multiplayer is where the game really shines. Voice and text chat are fully supported, and work quite well. While I was experiencing issues finding games early into launch day, as time went on, I could find more available games, and had zero connection issues on Steam. As of the time of this writing the planned level editor is not available, but whenever it does go live, it will help alleviate a lot of the replay value problems in the current build.

To date, there aren’t a whole lot of games like Monaco. There’s action oriented isometrics like Trap Gunner and strategy heavy games like Frozen Synapse, but Monaco succeeds in blending the two playstyles together effortlessly. Even if you aren’t the type who plays nice with others, Monaco offers more than enough content to help you channel your inner thief.

This review is based on a digital copy of Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine for the PC.

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