My first look at Monaco 2 made me think that maybe crime could pay

Monaco 2
(Image credit: Pocketwatch Games)

Andy Schatz, the creator of Monaco, admits that Monaco 2 is “the ambitious version” of what the team tried to do with Monaco, the two games reading like the minimalist and maximalist version of the same design document. This heist-’em-up Monaco 2 might look shinier, but it’s channelling the exact same manic energy that made the original game so compelling.

Schatz is steering my hands-off demo, careening through vents and dancing between filing cabinets with entirely unearned confidence. Still, Monaco was a game where success came from both a flawless heist but also from the chaotic whooping that often accompanies every on-foot chase through the level. Based on Schatz repeating 'no, no, no' like a protective mantra as situations go south, Monaco 2's still got it. 

Charging around the map hoovering up coins like a capitalist Pac-Man feels exactly like it used to, but Monaco 2 immediately looks broader, with a new verticality to the heists. I watched as a simple theft at the opera turned into a sprawling adventure as would-be thieves clattered across gantries, through security offices and occasionally dove into potted plant hiding places to change personas, emerging with the perfect tool for the job. 

While multiplayer will have four players on the ground—Schatz said additional spectators can join the game, fulfilling the role of a “man in the van” for the heisters —as a solo player you’ll be jumping through different crooks to take advantage of everyone’s unique abilities as you need them. 

The plan is that this should make it a friendlier game for people looking to experience what Monaco 2 has to offer. But it also just means you can quickly change tack when a heist needs a fresh idea to make it work. The thief Una for example can throw down with one or even two guards at once and knock them silly, but if what you actually need is someone to hack quickly through a security system, it's time to hurl yourself into a fern and do a quick body swap. 

Schatz himself points to heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven, the original Mission Impossible and even the lesser spotted Sexy Beast as heists that offer up a complexity of space, and that’s the magic he's trying to channel here.

Procedural generation is being used to make this a heist game you can come back to again and again, but it's not full-on random from the jump. Everyone starting Monaco 2 will initially play the same set of levels, but when you come back to revisit a level it will draw from a pool of different seeds,  recombining different hand-crafted areas and some connective rooms and alleyways that will smooth things over.

This means the Monaco 2 developers can have their cake and eat it, with players getting to experience the same campaign together before enthusiasts dig in and let things get a little weird. To show me this, Schatz loads up a Heat-inspired level that involves moving up a street while being hemmed in on all sides by environmental hazards and even rooftop snipers. Loading it for the second and third time, it was easy to see how the level could be subtly remixed, remaining true to the original flavour but distinct enough you need to keep your wits about you. 

There are eight new characters in Monaco 2, but I only got to see four: hacker Gibson, dog and owner team Cosmo & Panzer, brawler Una, and Sake, who can move faster than the others. They each feel distinct, and I would instantly die for the guard-distracting Panzer, but i’m curious to see if the unrevealed four have anything to match the sheer ridiculous power of Monaco’s The Mole, who could tunnel through the maps and is the punchline behind the only acceptable Penny Arcade comic.

Full disclosure: I mostly played as The Mole.

Those additional characters will add a lot of the texture to Monaco 2, a game I’ve come away from my preview excited by, but a little cautious of. Monaco 2 feels like a fairground ride, but I want to see how the characters come together and how the systems overlap to get a sense of the depth on offer. While the old thrills still draw me in, I’m keen to see what else Monaco 2 can do. Like all the best heist movies, Monaco’s big sequel is going to have to be bigger and even more dazzling than the predecessor, and I’m excited to watch it try.