Some Sort of Stigma

Some Sort of Stigma

As video games continue to exist and be an openly available consumer-based industry, stigmas begin to form. Some already exist and apply to the world outside of the game, such as gender and age markets, platform price points, and the sobering hiring-firing cycle of traditional development, but the ones that pertain to the products themselves are just as multifaceted and interesting. They can begin as one thing and slowly change and morph into new predilections as standards and practices evolve.

With a shooter, you come to expect certain things because that’s just the way they are. You expect some sort of indicator to come up around the reticle when you’re damaging something, you expect a variety of weapons that cover a set array of utilities, and you expect some sort of shooting/meleeing interplay. That’s what we’ve been trained to believe a shooter will provide, even though that wasn’t always the case. Save for the plethora of firearms and their distributed use, these are modern conventions brought about by relatively recent titles.

These stigmas can go on and on for most every other genre, too. Fighting games have metered super moves, racing games have driving lines, and mobile games have in-app purchases. They may not be categorically true, but the fact that the majority (or majority of significant releases, anyways) hove close to this stricture makes it certainly seem that way.

Take stealth games, for example. When you think of sneaking around in a video game, you think of waiting in the shadows, not getting spotted, and accomplishing some task unseen. You get in, get out, and don’t get caught. A perfect run in any stealth game is obviously the one where you accomplish it like a ghost: invisible. We know that because Splinter Cell taught us that a good sneak-fest ends with zero alerted guards and zero trigger alarms. Metal Gear Solid taught us that the punishment of fighting enemies in some strange combat framework was reason enough to warrant us channeling our inner 90s Swayze.

Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, though, begs to differ. Andy Schatz’s stealth co-op game is all about being sneaky little thieves and accomplishing furtive goals under some searching gaze. The difference, however, between Monaco and the Dishonoreds and Mark of the Ninjas of the world is that there’s a timer.

I guess, really, it’s not the timer itself since many stealth games have timers either as a scoring mechanism or individual event-type situations, but it’s what the timer does to you as a player. Whereas other stealth games follow within the general confines of the genre in that all of the non-sneaking mechanics such as shooting and stabbing and whatnot all primarily exist to get you out of a jam and back into a state of calm (or maintain that state of calm depending on how your skill level).

Monaco really bucks that trend because your primary sneaking mechanic is the same as your primary get-out-of-trouble mechanic: movement. Each character has a special ability, but that usually lends itself to cooperative teamwork instead of individual tiptoeing. Instead, your primary action is to simply move, either in a whisper-quiet walk or an all-out run. The difference in input simple and plays into that timer.

It’s human nature to desire to be the best, or at least the best you can be. Getting your personal completion time down to mere minutes is utterly intoxicating, so when it’s so simple to shave entire seconds off, you often act upon that impulse. So you run. You’ll run and charge headfirst into situations you probably should have surreptitiously entered, but that’s because it’s so easy to get in and out of your sneaking and escape modes. If you don’t get caught, great! If you’re seen, then you’re already running, and if you keep running, you get a lower time. Fantastic!

This is counter to the single most monolithic stigma of stealth games: getting caught is a failure. In Monaco, getting caught means nothing except get your ass out of there. All that contributes to your time is how long it takes you to get your job done (steal stuff) and how well you did it (amount of stuff stolen). It’s simple in its ways of pushing you to break every preconceived notion of stealth you have and just go for it, a sentiment usually reserved for platformers and shooters.

It provides a moment of reconsideration in what stealth really is. Look at Pac-Man. That old school arcade chase-around might be the first instance of a stealth game; it perfectly mimics mostly every other title in the genre’s post-alert state. You are on the run and being chased by, ostensibly, guards as you try to steal all of the dots and fruit. The only difference is that there is not sneaking mode (unless you count gaming the enemy AI) and there’s no real true escape; you are always running.

So maybe Monaco isn’t really breaking any stereotypes of the stealth genre. Maybe it’s simply a return to form for what they really are. It’s the thrill of the escape. Even games where the focus is on not getting caught like Splinter Cell and Hitman, they are all really just about getting away. It just so happens that in those cases, the best way to haul ass is to be deliberate and calculated. Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine strips out the cautious methodologies and goes back to the first stealth stigma: all you have to do is run.

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