Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: "Monaco"

Monaco is a top down 2D colorful pixel art stealth indie game, where players choose different criminals to perform heists. Players can choose to complete the heist by themselves or cooperate with up to 3 other friends.

Monaco's story tells of 4 specialized criminals who performed a prison break and plans to escape Monaco. Along the way, they enlisted help from 4 other criminals to aid their escape. These 8 different criminals are the Locksmith, Pickpocket, Cleaner, Lookout, Mole, Gentleman, Hacker and Redhead.

Line of sight leads to importance of positioning
Stealth games are an interesting genre to me. I think it is safe to say that it is difficult to design one that is 100%  about sneaking aroumd. Usually, stealth games incooperate NPC-disabling aspects in varying degrees, from basic knocking the lights off enemies to permenantly killing them with a stab to the back to plain manslaughter. Metal Gear, Thief, Splinter Cell and Hitman all have the same trend. One of the reasons is that designers would want to empower the players, and empowerment is one of the most powerful ways to provide fun to the players. Not allow players to disable enemies seems rather counter-productive (not saying that it is impossible to create a stealth game like that; I totally believe that it is doable). But one must remember that disabling an enemy will trivialize that area of the level the enemy is at. As an example, if you kill everyone on a level in the stealth games classic Thief, completing that level will be a walk in a park.

Monaco did not move away from the trend. However, Monaco has a very strict limitation on this topic on disabling enemies. Lets throw in some game facts so that we can get a better perspective. The tools players can carry is limited; one tool per player, and each tool's ammo is obtained by collecting every 10 coins which are littered throughout the map. On top of that, only half the tools are actually harmful to enemies (weapons). Also, enemies can revive each other. This makes weapons cost-ineffective for the heists, espacially when the other non-lethal tools are really good (like the Smoke Bomb which blocks enemy line of sight, or the EMP which disables all nearby electronic devices like alarms or cameras).

Information relayed to players is clear and concise

This bring us to the next feature of the game. Monaco features 8 unique professions the players can choose to play. For a new player, I found that I have the most ease completing most of the levels with The Cleaner. Like I mentioned before, disabling enemies in stealth games can trivialize the level. It so happens that The Cleaner does this very well. He is able to disable anyone he touches as long as they are not alerted. After using him for the first time, I could never stop. Only on very specific scenarios will The Cleaner have trouble. In a nutshell, The Cleaner is generally useful in all maps because he can potentially get rid of the greatest threats that is common in them. The other classes are quite the opposite; they are useful on specific maps and can suffer badly if the map does not cater to their abilities.

The Locksmith, who opens locks faster, is good at levels where you have memorized the map and going for speed runs in places with a lot of locks. I do not have much of a problem with him as locks are one of the most common things you encounter.

The Pickpocket, who has a monkey that collects coins, is probably as powerful to me as the Cleaner as he has the potential to avoid the need to interact with enemies. He is easily my second choice to clear a level, should the Cleaner face difficulties. 

The Lookout, who climbs vents and stairs faster and can detect NPCs while sneaking or standing still, is useful in co-op matches because she can help other players detect enemies from hidden places. I do not use her much as her ability is really only good for escaping, and I try not to get myself spotted most of the time.

The Mole, who can destroy walls, might perform really well in levels with lots of walls to break as he can bypass certain obstacles. The only problem is that very few levels give The Mole this chance. Some levels can just simply shut his abilities down with good placement of NPCs and giving very few walls for him to break through without screwing himself.

The Gentleman, who wears disguises (a shield for enemies detecting you), is probably only good for running across security cameras. I have not found a security camera which I have problems bypassing with other characters though.  In my opinion, his ability is the most boring.

The Redhead, who will charm the first person who spot her (you will have to go out of sight to lose them), is very good or very bad depending on the level's NPC placement. I find her really annoying to use because if I charmed the wrong person, I would have to get rid of him as if I was being chased, in which case it is almost no different from getting chased in the first place. 

The Hacker, who hacks computers faster and can hack through power socket, is also very dependant on the level. This is because all characters can inherently hack through computers, so using the hacking mechanic is a common ability. The only difference is the The Hacker can hack faster and hack in more places, and again the extra places the Hacker can hack is dependant on the level (like if some wise-ass designer decides not to give you sockets to hack through). 

I have already mentioned about The Cleaner. So of course, the Cleaner has areas where it is problematic for him, like when there are too many enemies together in one spot. However, that situation is just as problematic for other professions, save maybe the Pickpocket. 

Hector is his monkey
But I must stop myself from going into a tangent about stealth games and its design. The problems I faced with each profession are just my opinions and I can see how each of them cater to different players (maybe people find unlocking doors fast better than disabling enemies, since if they can unlock doors fast, they have less problems running into patrols for example). In the end, because of its limitations of disabling enemies, I find myself sneaking and hiding, bidding myself time as an enemy walks by, more than actually trying to disable enemies (even for The Cleaner). 

Monaco is essentially a very well-executed stealth game. It has interesting mechanics, features and rather well-written scripts and dialogues before each heist (although it sort of went downhill after they met the Hacker). On top of that, it has a really good soundtrack! I would definitely recommend this game for everyone to play, casual or not. 

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