The trouble with stealth games, for me anyway, is all that stealthiness. Which isn't to say that stealth in games can't be an enjoyable factor, but too often the stealth genre deals in such rigid requirements of absolute precision in movement and execution that it kills a lot of the fun for players who aren't invested in becoming the most skilled thieves, ninjas, or special operatives out there. Sometimes, you don't necessarily want to lose every single time a guard spots you. Sometimes, you just want a little more chaos in your stealth gameplay, you know?
If you share my sensibilities, there's a good chance you'll enjoy Pocketwatch Games' Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine quite a bit. In development for something like four years now, Monaco has evolved from its early showings as an intriguing indie curiosity into a full-fledged adventure, replete with numerous characters, skills, and challenging stages to master. It's especially strong in cooperative multiplayer, where up to four players can plan, execute, and in some cases, frantically try to salvage elaborate heists that often have a tendency to go haywire, albeit often in the most enjoyable ways possible.
There are eight characters to choose from in Monaco. Four--the Locksmith, the Cleaner, the Lookout, and the Pickpocket--are available right at the beginning of the game. Over time, you'll also unlock the Mole, the Gentleman, the Redhead, and the Hacker. Each of these characters has a unique skill that makes them vital for specific tasks throughout the story. The Locksmith, for instance, can push through locked doors twice as quickly as any other character; the Hacker can disable security systems by uploading viruses through any power outlet; the Gentleman can disguise himself for a set amount of time; and the Cleaner can chloroform any in-game enemy he manages to sneak up on.
If you're playing alone, you can just pick from any one of these characters once they're unlocked. Every stage in Monaco can be beaten with any character, but some levels are definitely designed with certain abilities in mind, and some characters are just balanced better than others. The Mole, for instance, can dig through walls, and especially in the first half of the game, is exceptionally useful. Conversely, the Pickpocket, despite having a monkey that collects coins for him, is regrettably pretty useless in most key situations.
The primary goals of Monaco's many unsavory characters evolve over time, but objectively speaking, pretty much everything revolves around you getting into a heavily guarded/booby trapped area, stealing something, and getting back out. Cops, civilians, guard dogs, cameras, laser barriers, computer-locked doors, and just about every other manner of security must be navigated successfully in order to survive a mission. In addition to your primary goal, you'll also be trying to collect the many coins that have been scattered throughout each stage, all while generally trying to avoid detection.
The thing is, you won't avoid detection forever. While it's distinctly possible that some obsessive players may be able to sneak through whole levels of Monaco without ever spooking a guard or being spotted on a camera, you really don't have to do this to succeed. When playing solo, getting detected really only means that you need to bolt to a nearby hiding spot, either in another room, or in an air duct, or even inside a nearby shrub. Enemies aren't terribly thorough in their searches, so if you're far enough out of their sight line and aren't making noise, they'll usually just wander off, and you're good to go.
Multiplayer requires a bit more strategy, given that you could have up to four people all wandering around different areas of the environment. It pays to have a plan, which is to say that it pays to spend time learning the layouts of the different stages, and have certain characters attack certain areas for maximum coin collection and minimum collateral damage. That, of course, doesn't always go according to plan. In most games, seeing your best laid plans go to pot is usually a source of frustration. However, at least in the early goings, Monaco's levels are generally bite-sized enough to avoid forcing players to restart large chunks of content, while also providing just enough challenge to ensure that when things do go wrong, they go hilariously wrong. Later on, as the levels become more intricate and frankly just a lot longer, those failures do become a bit less amusing.
Obviously a disastrous outcome isn't the point of playing Monaco, but that the disastrous outcomes are, in their own way, often so very entertaining is a testament to how fun the game can be in multiplayer. Pulling off a well-constructed heist, filled with coordinated distractions and intricately executed strategy is awesome, but even having it all fall apart on you, with guards and sirens and dogs all converging on everybody, is weirdly fun too. Of course you never want to be the guy who ruined everything, but there are, thankfully, just enough ways to get yourself out of a jam in Monaco to prevent you from ever feeling like you've hopelessly destroyed everyone's chances just by screwing up once or twice.
It helps that Monaco is a pretty simple game, mechanically. You can use a controller on the PC version if you like, but the default controls really only require movement via the WASD keys, holding the right mouse button down to sneak quietly, and using the left mouse button to use weapons and other items that pop up from time to time. These can range from simple guns to EMPs that knock out all the electronics in a nearby area. For every ten coins you pick up, you earn another use of the item you're currently equipped with, which can be very handy when you just need to get one guard out of your way to get to the next area.
There are quite a few chapters to play through in Monaco, though you can't unlock the second volley of levels--which are essentially remixed versions of previous levels designed with more challenge, and an alternate story path, in mind--until you've "cleaned out" enough stages on the first. Cleaning out requires collecting all the coins in a given stage, which, especially in the later stages, is easier said than done. The earlier stages are easier to pull this off in, and in fact, I managed to clean out a few levels without really even trying too terribly hard. But those aren't the norm, and in most cases, you'll have to painstakingly scour levels to find all those coins.
The story is cutely written, meting out pieces of info that simultaneously flesh out the stories of the game's characters, and pay homage to a few of the all-time crime movie classics. Still, the atmosphere of this game isn't really what sells it. The piano-heavy soundtrack by Austin Wintory does a nice job of capturing the sort of jaunty, old-timey soundtracks of classic silent film, but the game's visual palette sometimes has a hard time differentiating certain environments and settings. It's a good looking game with some nice pixel art, but there are definitely moments where all the little icons, characters, and pieces of scenery turn into something of an indistinct blur.
While I admittedly became less enamored with Monaco as it ramped up its difficulty and turned some of its later missions into tedious exercises in trial-and-error, the vast majority of Monaco's content is simply a delight to play, especially when enjoyed alongside a rogue's gallery of your most deviously skilled friends. It may not best serve the solitary brand of player, but for a cooperative group of would-be thieves, Monaco can be terrific fun.