The licensed video game isn’t dead. They’re just coming in irregular forms. Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is but an example of this. Serving as a theme park exploration of sorts through the Birmingham streets, you’ll see familiar places from the show. This too was the appeal of the tactics game Peaky Blinders: Mastermind. Only this time, it sadly feels more surface-level of an experience than ever.
Players control an original, new character in The King’s Ransom. Arriving on the streets of Birmingham, England in 1928, you soon meet up with some of the key crew from the Peaky Blinders show. Winston Churchill’s ‘Red Box’ has been stolen. Within is key information and data that should not have fallen into the wrong hands. So, it’s up to you and some of the Shelby family crew to reobtain the box, returning it to its rightful owner.
Once more, you’ll get to intimately know head honcho Thomas Shelby and Arthur Shelby. The fact the two biggest characters in the IP are once again playing their roles here brings good believability and investment into the game. Rounding out the familiar cast is Polly, the matriarch of sorts for the crime family. Like the show, they’ll wax poetic and commiserate about their days in the War as you share a drink and smoke. This is engaging characterisation as always, with gripping and tense dialogue. That’s something I believe couldn’t have come without hiring at least some of the original cast back (sadly and naturally, Hellen McCrory’s portrayal of Polly isn’t present due to her passing).
These intense character-driven moments are where Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is at its strongest. Unfortunately, those moments are too few and far between. While you’re travelling to engaging environments and getting twists and turns, betrayals and backstabs, they feel a little bit like going through the motions.
There are nuggets of good storytelling and world-building here. When you first set foot in Birmingham, there are communist representatives campaigning, handing fliers out of alleys and causing a disruption to the Peaky Blinders gang and their hideout in the Garrison Pub.
At first, this feels like a tantalising tease to the other side of the world at that time in the early 1900s. Before long, however, those communists (a party intent on liberating the people from the corrupt ruling of Government and the close links to the mob family that is the Shelbys) are portrayed through the narrative as extremists. Never to be taken seriously and to be dispatched quickly.
In an ideal world, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is a more fleshed-out game where you feel even more tension as you link up with the Shelby family. Your allegiance with them could be in question as you start to wonder whether or not you made the right decision in being on their side. Instead, it’s a romp dedicated to putting you in the shoes of a Peaky Blinder, over before you know it in less than two hours. Ultimately, it’s somewhat of a disappointing theme park visit through the world of early 1900s Birmingham.
The King’s Ransom features a good amount of action set pieces. Largely, these are tense gunfights that require you to move from cover to cover, either by teleportation or thumbstick. You’ll be peering around corners, trying to get the angle on enemy communists or other assailants. They don’t move around too much and are therefore not exactly a challenge. Your only weapon choices are a pistol and the occasional molotov that you can happen upon. While barebones, it works in combat settings. It’s the 1920s and you’re a lowly member of a crime family. Of course, your arsenal isn’t going to get all that daring.
There is some other novel gameplay too. A dedicated cigarette and zippo lighter that can be grabbed at any time from your person does wonders for immersion. Some scenes also require you to be a bit investigative. Many collectable objects are present such as cigarette packs and tarot cards. Sure they’re uninspiring time wasters to add to the already short length, but at least the way you’re going about finding them is engaging. Doorways and some crates holding these collectables or readables are boarded up, only penetrable by a hammer or crowbar tucked away somewhere in the environment. Sometimes you’ll have to traipse through the dark, finding a key item to progress a plot, only a lantern lit by your own lighter in your hand.
Perhaps the most clever delivery of lore is through old-timey radios where news is broadcast. You’ll have to work for it though. Each radio you stumble across is broken, needing a relevant part to fix it. Once done, you can fiddle with the knobs, tuning into the sweet dulcet tones of an announcer.
Sharing a glass of whiskey or smoke with one of the Shelbys, occasionally donning a detective hat in light puzzles that have you studying an environment, even in a rare instance playing some darts… none of these gameplay moments are deep. However, they are effective and fun in engaging you in the world of the Peaky Blinders.
Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom does have some good style going for it. Soon after stepping foot in Birmingham, you’re walking triumphantly down the familiar Garrison Lane, with the iconic Garrison Pub not too far off in the distance. Backing you in making this walk is Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, making you feel like you’re parading through your own opening title sequence, not too dissimilar to that of the original.
Environments you explore, whether that’s the Garrison Pub itself or a warehouse that’s home to violent gunfire… everywhere you step is at least believable in the world. Set dressing is clever, with nice touches of wallpaper and decor to really milk the vibes out of a scene. The style does however let up outside of that. Characters look close enough to their likeness if you squint. Though that can at times turn into an uncanny valley territory when you see them speak. Cillian Murphy’s Thomas Shelby is the most notable example of this, never quite looking like his handsome, dapper self.
Even for super fans, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is a hard ask. Coming in at just shy of $50AUD, this is an egregious price point for what is essentially a brief tech demo experience. There are some good times to be had with the game, but none are all that memorable or ever-changing for the Peaky Blinders universe. This just makes it sting all the more when you see glimpses of gold.
Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is available now on the Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest Pro and the PICO 4, with a PC release on Steam to come in the future.