I tell myself that I don’t really believe in the idea of the perfect game. That makes Monaco more of an ideal game, by which I mean ideal for me. Everything I like is in this game somewhere, but I’ve never felt like I’ve been able to get across adequately just why I love it so much. Now it’s headed to Switch and I’ve been playing through its many campaigns all over again. I still love it! I still can’t adequately tell you why.
Monaco is a game about burglarising places. More games should be about burglarising places! It’s a perfect way to blend stealthy games and panic – you sneak around, hoping for the best, and then something you didn’t foresee surprises you and everything goes to heck. Monaco, at times, comes tantalisingly close to being a playable version of The Burglar’s Guide to the City, Geoff Manaugh’s truly magical study of the interaction between crime and urban design. Every time I go into a level I tell myself: this time I will ace it, these people will never know I was there. Every time it goes wrong.
Feeding into all this potential for chaos is the fact that Monaco is a masterpiece of abstraction. It takes your crime spree across various fancy locations and views the whole thing from above. The environments become Pac-Man mazes, and the mazes themselves obey line-of-sight rules, which makes the whole thing visually arresting and also means that there’s ample opportunity for you to round a corner and walk straight into security. Monaco’s visually extremely elegant, but the top-down stuff allows it to simulate a lot of theoretically quite costly things pretty easily. You can be chased by dogs! You can be wounded and leaving a bloody trail behind you. Best of all you can hack computer systems and watch in delight as digital mayhem dashes through the level around you, shutting down security stuff and killing lights as you pick your own path through the levels. Monaco is intricate but extremely readable. Things that would knacker me in other games are a breeze to get stuck into here.
Ultimately, what draws everything together is pressure, I think. Pressure to be quick, to be silent, to get as much stuff as you can on each mission and to make it back to the exit alive. This is why everything you interact with in Monaco takes time, I think. Picking up a shotgun, applying a bandage, knocking your way through a wall, donning a disguise. Time is the real currency the game deals in, time and the need to stand still while patrols patrol and while the rest of the world moves around you.
The studio’s called Pocketwatch, and I can’t help but see the game as a reflection of that kind of thing. This is a bright, intricate piece of beauty, and now it lives on a screen that, if you can’t quite keep it on a silver chain, can still be slung into a bag or left on the sofa. It’s a game of richness and complexity and now you can hold it in your hands. Get in.