Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
August 20, 2020
Futurlab, Futurlab Limited
Ah, Peaky Blinders. The popular show that has a Nick Cave song as its theme, features the likes of the ever pretty Cillian Murphy, and is all about men smoking cigarettes, being tough and fighting good in 1900’s London. It’s the latest show to be adapted to a game, resulting in Peaky Blinders: Mastermind. I know what you’re thinking. Shows made into games never work. To be short, this largely follows the same vein, but at least there’s promising heart in there.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind serves as a warming revisitation
The story of Peaky Blinders: Mastermind follows prior to the events of the show. This benefits greatly to newcomers like myself, who have admittedly been checking out the show for the first time simultaneously. Returning fresh from the first World War, Thomas Shelby along with brothers Arthur and John are settled once more in Birmingham, England. There’s still some unrest there: Thomas has returned from the war with some baggage (more on that later) and a Peaky Blinders member, the crime organisation they head, has been accused of murdering a Chinese opium dealer. If you’re familiar at all with Peaky Blinders, you’re aware not everything is what it seems. Our Tommy sure isn’t convinced.
While I’m sure it’s quite exciting for some to see Peaky Blinders adapted in a new way, don’t expect anything groundbreaking. There is no voice acting whatsoever in the game. The most intimate glimpses we get of our favourite members of the mobster family is through interchanges we get in-between missions, setting up whats to be done in the mission to come. These are simply still, digitised images. I’m happy with this, their likenesses are translated quite well and I can only imagine the difficulties around getting just a single line of voiced dialogue in. Thankfully, it’s not missed: dialogue is done in a very similar fashion to the show. Blunt lines hit you like a blow, and there’s even time for the silver tongue of Tommy to shine through.
Waiting for the pieces to fall into place
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is an isometric tactics game. Not only do you get to play the aforementioned three main brothers of the Shelby family but you also get to play as sister Ada, Aunt Polly and the young Finn. It is imperative that no matter who is assigned to you in any of the ten missions, you utilise them and you utilise them well.
Tommy can persuade people on the street to help work for the team. Arthur can kick down doors and beat people up good. With the least variance, John too can beat up people, but also set fire to certain obstacles in your path clearing them. Ada can distract guards, shortening the span of their vision cone so your teammates can slip by. Polly can pay guards to look the other way and lockpick certain doors. Finn? Finn can crawl through small spaces. The game is very Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun in that regard, but don’t expect the same level of depth or variety.
I say this because it’s quite clear very early on how to make Peaky Blinders: Mastermind work in your favour. Proving I entered this game ever under-prepared, I’ve played very little of the tactics genre. Still, with a solid and quite fun first mission that serves as an ample tutorial, and tips along the rest of the way, I never felt too out of my depth. So yes, if you enter the game expecting a deep tactical game experience you’re going to be disappointed. That being said, should anyone really expect that out of a god damned Peaky Blinders video game?
Getting down to the meat and bones of the game does prove quite beneficial. The game is described as a ‘heist RPG.’ More often than not, missions will see you tasked with using each characters talents to infiltrate an area in search of an item or specific enemy. To help you plan out the task, you’re issued with a timeline to map out these actions.
“It’s quite clear very early on how to make Peaky Blinders: Mastermind work in your favour.”
The timeline that’s ever present at the bottom of your screen in a level is daunting at first, but quite easy to get the hands of. Time manipulation allows for you to either speed things up to get to a needed point, or slow time down to undo those painful mistakes.
Considering this, I will say I wish there were was a hotkey for undoing actions. When your timeline of actions gets busy, and it will, every second counts. To have to actively rewind, and do the slightest change in action just to course correct is downright tedious. Especially when you’re already say 7 or so minutes into a level clock.
Truth be told, there isn’t much of a challenge in the game. Yes, there’s a time limit to levels and objectives but with a level head and some clear thinking, you’ll be golden. The closest you’ll come to a challenge is trying to get those coveted gold ranked timings in levels. By no means is timing limited when it comes to getting a silver or bronze ranking. A bronze ranking most of the time is “just get this done in under 15 minutes.” Easy peasy. However, gold rankings are tough to do. There were multiple occasions I thought my run in a level was near perfect, only to miss nailing it by a mere few seconds. Again, a hotkey for undoing actions would help greatly here.
Collectables in the form of pocket watches are randomly spread out in levels too. They’re by no means special; merely set dressing, meaning I rarely went out of my way to grab them. Still, the parts of my lizard brain that scream ‘completionist,’ wished I did.
I think what I have to credit Peaky Blinders: Mastermind for most is its level design. Areas in a majority of the missions connect in really smart and fun ways. Some saw the young Finn walking above catwalks, manipulating levers to open doors help his friends on the ground below. While his friends were following this path he laid out for them, Ada would be distracting guards. Maybe Tommy would persuade a guard to get a needed key. And hell, you can certainly bet Arthur and John were getting into a few fights of their own. Watching character movements and actions sync up really is rewarding to see in this game, especially when you consider the webbing, weaving and even verticality of the levels.
Some faults appeared here too. With the constant second by second swapping between both players and locations they are in, no doubt this asked for a lot of processing power. It shows. Quite a few times I’d control one character, check in on one across the map, only to go back to the first. Then, this original character was now stuck in a room with only a limited number of asset textures loaded. The rest were simply shrouded in darkness, hurting working out where I needed to go at that given time.
- Beloved characters are digitised quite well
- Captures the 20th century vibes of the show brilliantly
- Some smart and engaging level design
- Nothing to write home about for the tactics genre
- Could do with some quality of life functions like easier means of deleting actions
- Collectables are bland and could've just been left out entirely
- Some hurtful graphical glitches
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is quite an okay example of a game being made out of a television show. That being said I don’t think there’s a world where it could’ve been anymore than that. It’s a good introduction to the tactics genre and has some neat levels, but that’s about it. It’s decent, that’s all.
If anything, I’m thankful it got me to both get my toes wet in a genre I’m less familiar with and also finally be invested and interested in the world of the Peaky Blinders. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some more fawning over Cillian Murphy’s piercing blue eyes to do.