If you’re reading this now, chances are you’ve played at least a handful of co-op games. Whether it’s local or online, co-op in games is one of the best trends in the industry (despite some downsides) and has become my preferred form of multiplayer. The options are almost limitless; no matter what you’re looking for, there is probably the perfect co-op experience for you. I was thinking about what makes for the best co-op, not just for me, but for people everywhere. My conclusion doesn’t stem from the game itself, but from the community that surrounds it.
You may find yourself infatuated with Call of Duty: Black Ops II’s zombie mode, but the chances of you running into a good group of random people to play with online is slim. That’s not to say you can’t find good people playing online, but sometimes it seems like the number of griefers and trolls outweighs those just looking to have a good time. The best solution is to play with your friends, either local or online, but sometimes it’s nice to know you can hop into a random game without worrying about those who simply enjoy harassing others in one form or another.
Recently, I picked up the Xbox Live Arcade version of Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, a new co-op stealth game that’s been in development for quite some time. It was a title I was eager to dive into, partly due to my love of stealth games, but also because the premise sounded amazing. A game about a series of heists where you play with up to three other people to complete objectives while attempting to remain hidden sounded amazing. The best part is it lived up to my expectations, and has quickly become a game I find myself going back to countless times and will continue to do so throughout the year.
Monaco is all about cooperation, which is part of the reason why it succeeds. Yes, if you’re playing a co-op game, you need to cooperate with teammates to succeed, but sometimes the idea of cooperation gets lost when certain players still attempt to play it competitively. These people don’t want their partners to lose since that could cost them the game, but they sometimes manage to see them as opposition as much as their teammates. And, as mentioned earlier, players will grief others simply because they find it as amusing as the game’s mechanics, if not more so. Some games are designed to work this way, like the multiplayer in the Kane & Lynch games, but usually it’s just super-competitive players potentially ruining a good co-op game. This never seems to be the case in Monaco though.
Andy Schatz, the game’s creator, wrote recently about the strange phenomenon in which people playing Monaco online never seemed to rely on the same tricks that you would find in other games. There were still probably trolls, but the game seemed to evoke the kind of cooperative experience that people respond to positively. Although he was unsure of how it would fare once it hit XBLA, the online community seemed just as eager to play it the way it as intended as players reportedly do on the PC. It’s a rare occurrence when I can hop into a game with three random people and still have a great time, and yet this is how it always went down in Monaco.
The difference between Monaco and other co-op games is how essential cooperation is. You can play the entire game solo, which is a good way to adjust to the mechanics and how the different characters play, but if you want to get the best times and collect everything in each level, you need play with others. When playing with others, the trick is to rely on each other’s abilities to get through levels while avoiding detection or, if spotted, getting away unscathed. And since the game simply doesn’t allow players to move on unless everyone in the group is ready, so no one is ever left behind. Small touches like that do wonders to keep the group moving forward as a team.
The way the abilities of each character play off of each other during co-op games can make some of the most difficult maps a cakewalk. The Lookout is my character of choice, as she can spot all guards in the area when standing still, giving the other players an easy way to know when they may run into opposition. Combine this with The Gentleman, who can disguise himself when hidden (making it easy for him to sneak through crowded areas), and you have a great team. And why not add The Hacker? He can break into security systems without breaking a sweat to give the others safer passage. No matter what your team is, the ways in which their specialties work in tandem with one another makes cooperation essential to completing a mission successfully.
Again, it’s probably easy to get stuck with someone who simply screws with everyone else, gets caught, and refuses to cooperate only to have “fun” in a strange, almost sadistic way. These people are the worst, and yet I haven’t encountered a single one in Monaco. Granted, I haven’t played as much of the game as others, but my experiences online with random people have been almost as pleasant as playing with a group of trusted friends. It’s bizarre when this is something worth talking about, but it speaks to how toxic other online communities are.
The game’s design allows for people to strike out on their own without being completely alone, and when it’s necessary, you can put the abilities of the different characters to use in remarkable ways. You will always know where everyone else is, and there will be plenty of opportunities to cooperate in small, but meaningful ways. It’s designed brilliantly; rewarding (or almost requiring) players for experimenting and cooperating in ways other games might only give some meager, almost pitiful acknowledgement of success. If you want to succeed in Monaco, you need to follow the rules, plain and simple.
Of course, any game with co-op can be played as they are designed to with the right group of people, but few seem to hone in on what makes those experiences really work. Sometimes you don’t have the right group of people, and it can be difficult to form a community of respectable players when there are so many out there who want nothing more than to ruin the game for others. However, add a few considerably helpful changes to the game that truly punish those who attempt to do so while satisfying those who just want to have fun, and you have a recipe for success. Monaco isn’t the only game that does this, but it’s the first in recent memory that allowed me to feel secure in a room full of strangers.