I know what you’re thinking. A game based on a film, TV show or any well-established franchise is normally a vacuous, disappointing echo of what the fanbase imagined it to be. However, I think it’s important to say right at the start of this review that Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is surprisingly good. And here’s why.
Fans of the show will know that the fifth series ended on a cliffhanger, and the sixth has been delayed, pretty much like everything else thanks to a certain little virus. I don’t need to tell you what it’s called but it’s put a bit of a spanner in the works of many plans. Anyway, Mastermind has to fill the gap and this feels like a “proper” Peaky Blinders game. By that, I mean it’s faithful to the TV series and set just before the first season.
This is clear straight from the off as the title song which plays over the main menu, “Reveller” by Feverist, fits the bill perfectly. For fans of the series like myself it instantly feels familiar – something genuine as opposed to a pale imitation.
The approach to making a Peaky Blinders game has seen developers Futurlab go down the puzzle/strategy route, and it really works. The title word “mastermind” refers to family leader Tommy Shelby’s brilliant, planful strategies which make the Peaky Blinders so successful and, above all else, survivors.
Linked to this is the game’s gimmick, if you like, which is the ability to manipulate time. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but bear with me here. Each mission is played against the clock, with some objectives that are individually time sensitive themselves. The timeline runs along the bottom of the screen, and charts key events such as opening doors, and scraping with rival gang members. This is important, as before long you’ll be directing the movements of several members of the Peaky Blinders gang within the same mission.
The upside of this “time travel” feature is that it’s never game over. Instead, if you are spotted or make a wrong move, you can just rewind and adjust your strategy accordingly. It works really well, I’m happy to say. You use the triggers to rewind and fast forward, and the bumpers to skip between events (those marked on your timeline). It’s smooth and seamless, which is important when you are handling the movements of three or four Peakies in the same mission. There is something satisfying about watching a character you directed earlier going about their business, as you are busy working with another.
You can play the game on normal or hard, the latter meaning there are no waypoints, which leaves the player to figure out how to progress for themselves. There’s no tutorial, but the difficulty arc is nice and steady and eases you into the game at a gentle pace. At first you won’t need to plan ahead – instead just deal with problems as they arise. It’s later where you’ll need to strategise, and ensure various characters interact in the right way, at the right time, to successfully beat the mission.
Pressing up and down on the D-Pad will change your character as you cannot control two at the same time. Again, the controls feel well-thought out here and lining up all the necessary moves in time to progress is simple once you’ve figured out what you need to do.
Each member of the gang also has their own unique abilities which add some further complexity to the gameplay. For example, Arthur can break down wooden blockades and Ada can distract guards so others can sneak past. However, perhaps the most entertaining of these is Tommy’s persuasion skill.
As most people are terrified of the Peaky Blinders, Tommy can normally find someone to help him out. His persuasion skill allows you to briefly control a bystander and use them to do your bidding, such as open a door or fetch some keys. It’s a satisfying skill which works well in game and, let’s face it, exactly who is going to say no to the Peaky Blinders?
As well as each character having their own objectives, each mission also contains a number of collectables (represented by a pocket watch) waiting to be found. As you’re permanently against the clock, you’ll also be ranked depending on how quickly you complete the mission. If you want to achieve golds across the board however, you’ll need to precisely plan your moves down to the second.
I must say that Small Heath and the Peaky Blinders’ world is faithfully recreated here. There’s a vintage, gritty comic book-esque visual style which hits the nail on the head. The characters are also spot on, right down to how they look and interact with each other. Essentially the game is designed to fit into the Peaky Blinders world, aiming to please fans of the show and newcomers alike. There’s also a pleasingly detailed, if typical, narrative that should please fans of the series, fitting in to the Peaky Blinders “lore” perfectly.
If my many years as a gamer have taught me anything, it’s that Peaky Blinders: Mastermind should be a bit naff. However, it’s a pleasingly entertaining way of filling the gap between the TV series or dipping your toe into the world for the first time. There’s ten missions to play through, which are effectively increasingly complex puzzles to solve. You’ll only be kept busy for a few hours, but it’s fun whilst it lasts.
Stylish, slick and set in Small Heath, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind on Xbox One is a strong first outing for the family. It may be a little on the short side, especially for £19.99, but it’s a refreshingly different way to test your gray matter. So go and check it out, by order of the Peaky Blinders!