By order of the Peaky Blinders
- Developer: FuturLab
- Publisher: Curve Digital
- Release date: 19th August 2020
- Genre: Puzzle Adventure
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
“The one minute. The soldier’s minute. In a battle, that’s all you get. One minute of everything at once. And anything before is nothing. Everything after, nothing.”
– Thomas Shelby
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is structured in the same way as a typical series arc in the show. Tommy always has a plan that is executed meticulously, with minor details and off-screen events contributing towards achieving an end goal that is often not revealed until the final episode.
In terms of lore, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is set in the period before the first season of the show when the men have just returned from the war. The Peaky Blinders are still establishing their foothold in Small Heath, and the game depicts a tale of betrayal, deceit and revenge between the Peaky’s, rival gangs and the police.
As a huge fan of the show, I found the interactions between the characters mostly believable, and I couldn’t help but read the dialogue in the character’s voices. Budget restraints meant they couldn’t afford to have the actors voice their characters, but I’m glad they didn’t use unofficial voice actors, as bad impersonations are always a poor choice.
Visually, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind captures the look of the show very well. Post-war Birmingham is recreated in the same style as the show, with an industrial early-century feel. Unfortunately, the static hand-drawn images of the cutscenes don’t fit the aesthetic and the beautifully realised environments of the gameplay.
There’s plenty of detail in the locales, and a few places you will recognise from the show. It’s not groundbreaking, and the isometric view and camera that can’t be rotated feel a little dated, but it works within the context of the gameplay. There’s not enough distinction between some of the areas, though, and I often had a sense of Deja Vu as I crossed the fourth near-identical metal catwalk across a rooftop, or passed through yet another similar warehouse.
The story goes some way towards carrying you towards the ending, but it lacks the depth, character development and engrossing storytelling that defines the show. Set as it is before the first season, it feels like a story that would have played out over a couple of episodes, rather than spanning a whole season. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s likely you won’t find it as interesting as fans may.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind plays out as a time-shifting puzzle game, with some stealth action thrown into the mix. You have a series of objectives to complete for each of your characters, which have a countdown timer for their completion. To achieve these objectives, you will need to use your characters in tandem to help you overcome obstacles. Because you can only use one character at a time, you have to use the time-rewinding mechanic.
Every action you make appears on a timeline, and once you’ve made your character’s moves, you can rewind time and switch to another character. The character you already programmed will perform the actions you executed while you carry out other tasks with the rest of the gang. The complexity of these interactions is gradually increased, so you don’t feel overwhelmed in the early stages, but by the final mission, you have control of all of the characters and must solve sequences involving multiple interactions and events.
Each of the Blinders has an ability that you must use to assist either themselves or the rest of the gang. For example; Tommy can convince people to help him, which gives you brief control of an NPC who can fetch keys or open doors for you, Ada can distract guards allowing the men to slip by undetected, or Arthur can fight goons and kick down doors, opening routes for the others. Its a multi-layered and very well executed system, and it’s an enjoyable and unique puzzle experience.
The creators of Peaky Blinders: Mastermind missed a trick by not giving you the option to watch your carefully orchestrated plan play out in an unbroken sequence at the end of the level. You frequently see the other characters moving into place, triggering events, distracting the police or opening doors, but the constant rewinding of time conceals the smoothness of your actions. When you’ve taken sometimes thirty or more minutes choreographing a few minutes of action, not seeing this play out in real-time lessens the impact.
When you are going for gold times, it’s often tricky to work out which character’s actions you need to work on to bring your time down. If, after finishing the level, there was a split-screen replay, allowing you to see all of your Peakys moving in harmony, you would much easier be able to see where you were losing time.
If you don’t replay the missions for the gold medals, you won’t appreciate how well the time-shifting puzzling is structured, though. You can bodge your way through, picking up the bronze medals, and finish the game in well under six hours. To get the gold medals requires you to have every character in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, and it’s immensely satisfying when you achieve your goal with mere seconds to spare.
There’s a little bit of replayability in going for the golds, and there are collectable pocket watches to find on each level, but there’s no reward for this outside of earning achievements. The achievements themselves are tied to the aforementioned collectables, completing missions, earning gold medals and for finishing levels without being detected. There’s nothing too taxing, though, and completionists will likely finish everything in under twelve hours.
As a puzzle game, I love the time-shift mechanic, but I’m not convinced it was the right choice for a Peaky Blinders game. Something in the vein of Mafia would have been far more appropriate. As it is, they have tied themselves into following a storyline that has limited their creativity, forcing them to fit the events and levels into a slow-burning TV show-style structure that ultimately restricts the experience and doesn’t give you the challenge you want until the final missions.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a decent puzzle game, but it doesn’t fulfil its potential until the closing stages, and just as you master the time-shifting mechanics and really start to enjoy it, it’s all over. Despite the brevity, it’s still an enjoyable game, and fans of the show will appreciate stepping into the world of the Peaky Blinders.