The popular television series Peaky Blinders now has a videogame adaptation in the shape of Peaky Blinders: Mastermind, which is out for consoles and PC. Is it worth a look, does it do the series justice and does it have appeal to gamers not familiar with the series?
I’ll readily admit that Peaky Blinders initially passed me by completely. It wasn’t until it was mentioned in our interview with Brenda Romero about Empire of Sin that I started to look into it more and enjoyed its rather unique setting for a gangster tale. Set against the backdrop of the city of Birmingham just after the First World War, it follows Thomas Shelby as he and his gang descend into a life of more and more crime and violence.
Mastermind acts as a prequel to the series, and as such doesn’t focus as much on the violence that is prevalent during a typical episode. There’s a narrative element to the game that doesn’t require you to be familiar with the show or its characters, and this being a prequel it might even help if you’re not yet familiar with the events of the show – the outcome of each mission (there are ten) being less predictable that way.
Although Peaky Blinders: Mastermind initially looks like a turn-based strategy game in the XCOM (or Empire of Sin) vein, it actually plays outs out much more like Desperados but with the added ability to control time itself. In each level you control a number of members of the Shelby gang, and each one has unique abilities that you need to use at the right moment and place in the level. Sounds quite a bit like Desperados so far, but with a completely different setting and cast of characters.
But where Desperados III delighted us with its open ended mission structures that allowed for numerous solutions to many of its challenges, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is much more linear in nature. A level’s solution always feels predetermined, and it’s your job to make sure you get there. If you fail, you have the ability to rewind time and make different moves, which feels like a neat bit of strategizing. Get everyone in the right spot and make them perform their action at the right time, and your plan might just beautifully come together when you hit play – a satisfying moment for sure, especially when levels get longer and more complex. This takes a while though, and a lot of the early missions are too straightforward and feel more like they were designed to make you familiar with the mechanics than anything else.
While the core mechanics of manipulating the timeline works great on a tactical level where you change some of the decisions you made earlier, it can get a tad bothersome when it turns into a situation when you’re micromanaging each character to make sure he’s slightly more to the left or right, or performing a certain action a fraction of a second earlier or later.
The game has all of the actors from the series lending their likeliness to it, which is great for a title that’s available at a budget price. There’s an attractive hand-drawn quality to the visual style as well, which also translates to the game’s isometric viewing perspective of each level. The soundtrack also ties the game into the series, so there’s plenty here to enjoy for fans.
As a standalone game for those who don’t watch Peaky Blinders, the mechanics that are on display in Mastermind are interesting enough but pale in comparison to games like the excellent Desperados III, mostly on account of the lack of an open-ended mission structure and the busywork that fine-tuning your solution can bring with it. Fans of the show should enjoy this take on the series though.