The past two weeks have seen a staggering wealth of accomplished indie games added to Steam. Between Papo y Yo, Don’t Starve, Starseed Pilgrim, and Dyad, PC gamers could feasibly busy themselves until the big holiday titles with excellent games that are as different in type as they are consistent in quality (and all for less than $80).
In the context of this bumper crop, the release this week of Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine feels almost gratuitous, like, maybe we should save a little for the lean times. But games are ready when they’re ready, and that’s a particularly apt chestnut for the new cooperative heist game from the five-man San Diego developer Pocketwatch Games.
A little background: Monaco has been in development for a long time. How long? Well, it was originally grouped with the first slew of indie titles to break into mainstream consciousness; in fact, it was supposed to be the crown jewel among them. At the 2010 Independent Game Festival (sort of the Academy Awards for indies), Monaco beat now-classic indie games Super Meat Boy and Joe Danger for the grand prize. (The competition was so good that year that Limbo wasn’t even nominated for the top spot.)
But getting the game out proved to be an ordeal. What Monaco designer Andy Schatz told Gamasutra was supposed to be a six-week project turned into a four-year ordeal that included multiple stalled distribution deals and ports for potential new platforms. There was more than a little bit of a Chinese Democracy vibe around the game.
So it’s a good thing that Monaco is buoyed by an all-timer of a great concept for a game: a top-down, classic-caper, Ocean’s Eleven–style robbery “sim,” in which each action (cracking safes, unlocking doors, knocking out unsuspecting guards) is performed merely by pressing against the object in question. It turns what sounds like a nightmarishly convoluted setup into something sleek and intuitive. (And can you imagine this game done in 3-D by a AAA studio? You’d need a controller with 20 buttons. And lord, the cutscenes…)
You can play the game solo, in which case you control one criminal class at a time (think: Lockpicker, Cleaner, Pickpocket), or you can play with up to three other people, in which case everyone specializes and uses their complementary skills to help each other. I haven’t played just as much multiplayer as I’d like yet, but in the time that I have, I’ve been introduced to a genuinely unique style of gameplay, partly frantic, partly strategic, with welcome doses of slapstick. (The only game I can think of that feels similar is the timeless 1998 Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.) A lot of people have written that Monaco really does feel like a heist, which is curious because unless a lot of people are cat burglars or are friends with them, I’m not sure how they know what a heist feels like. What I can confidently report is that it feels very much like playing a heist movie.
Monaco, like the rest of its accomplished April cohort, is an obvious labor of love. All of the little touches in the game — from a recurring guard character who keeps getting fired after you elude him, to the typeface on the map, to the wonderful piano score — glows with that patina of care and confidence that engenders trust in the designer. Despite its lengthy gestation, it doesn’t feel like 2010 or 2013; it just feels fresh.
So, yes, weary gamer, Monaco is another title that you need to put in your Steam library. The good news is, games this fun, unlike even the best crops, never go bad.