The plan is simple. Get in, grab all the money, get out. Everyone has a role in this heist, and if we do our jobs correctly, nobody sees us and nobody needs to get hurt, see?
Thing is, when you’re playing Monaco — the fantastic class-based co-op stealth game — things don’t always go according to plan. That’s not a bad thing. Typically, class-based games work best when everyone knows how to effectively use their specific class. Typically, we play games to be efficient at them: in this case, since it’s a stealth game, you’d think that, above all, you’d want to avoid getting caught. If you’re playing as Monaco’s Mole, for example, you’d think you’d want to be mindful about what parts of the level you tear down: the ability is noisy and attracts guards.
And sure, there’s pleasure in being sneaky in stealth games. That’s especially the case when a game seems to change for the worse when you get caught — Leigh Alexander describes Metal Gear Solid 3 as being a game where “You feel a sense of pleasure and mastery so long as you don’t generate noise or movement above a certain acceptable baseline. Call enough attention to yourself and suddenly you’re fighting an unpleasant combat game in which you experience crushing anxiety and virtual pain.”
Monaco is less like Metal Gear Solid and more like Pac-Man, in that the game becomes better when you’re in danger. In Pac-Man, as Robert Boyd puts it, you switch between being a predator who can kill everything, to being vulnerable prey — and much of Monaco is in making these switches intentionally (versus making these switches because of a screw-up, like you might in most stealth-games).
Plus, thanks to the timer, Monaco is less about stealth than it is navigating a level quickly. And speed doesn’t always mean furtive finesse. Speed might mean going, “Screw it,” and recognising the shortest route between you and your goal is directly in front of a bunch of guard dogs. You’re going to take it anyway. And when you do — when that dog sees you, this music starts playing:
It’s so pulse-poundingly perfect, you feel as if you’re supposed to be playing like that the entire time. Pac-Man isn’t thrilling until the ghosts are chasing you. That’s still the case here, though beyond the pleasure of trying to navigate a level while under pressure, heists are interesting because things go wrong, no? It feels more romantic, more true to the heist spirit, to play Monaco brashly, knowing you’ll risk being caught.
Hence Monaco is the rare game where I don’t mind having a lack of communication with other players, or having someone else mess up mid-level. Yes, we’ll try our best to play it safe, but when that doesn’t work, the slips and mistakes aren’t something to dread. That’s when the game becomes interesting. Actually, Monaco reminds me of Borderlands a bit.
Borderlands is best played with four other people, as the difficulty scales to an absurd level. It’s not just more monsters, it’s bigger monsters, deadlier monsters — literally badass monsters. With four players, Borderlands becomes the adrenaline junkie’s dream. Monaco can similarly become entropy with more people. And if it does, it’s like an added layer of challenge where you have to know how to react and adapt quickly, while in danger.
Granted, Monaco also becomes more complex with more people: multiple classes means more opportunities for sophisticated strategies. If you play by yourself, you are restricted to only using your abilities. With more people, you can pursue routes and approaches to a level you couldn’t otherwise.
Maybe you get the Lookout to scope out the scene for you before going forward, and when the coast is clear, you get the Mole to bust down some walls. With this alternate route, the Cleaner, who can take out enemies, has the opportunity to get the jump on some unsuspecting guards. You wouldn’t be able to do most of that stuff on your own, especially if you’re not playing as those classes.
Some people will want to figure that stuff out, see which combinations work best under specific circumstances. I am too, by virtue of playing it and paying attention to what’s happening. But for the most part, there’s only two words for the heart of Monaco, Borderlands and even games like Super Smash Bros: chaos reigns.
The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games.