The hit TV show gets its first video game tie-in, with an innovative approaching to being a gangster in 1919’s Birmingham.
Not only are TV tie-ins rare when it comes to video games but so too is the whole concept of overseeing a heist – or doing anything illegal that doesn’t involve just shooting someone in the face. When Grand Theft Auto is the most realistic portrayal of a career criminal you know most other games aren’t even trying. But in keeping with the show, Peaky Blinders tries to take a more thoughtful approach to running a gang, while also offering an imaginative take on traditional stealth gameplay.
Mastermind has been created with the help of series creator Steven Knight and acts as a prequel by taking part just before the start of season one. Sadly, Cillian Murphy and the other cast members are not involved but you do get to take control of characters such as Tommy Shelby, Arthur, Polly, and John as you set about establishing your Brummie crime empire.
The main video game inspiration behind all this is old PC strategy classic Commandos, whose formula was most recently reused in cowboy game Desperados 3. Mastermind adds some additional twists to try and increase the sense of tension, although it takes an awful long time for the game to get into its stride.
Although the real actors not being involved is one thing the script is surprisingly poor given that Steven Knight was supposed to be overseeing the game, and if you didn’t know this was based on an award-winning TV show you’d certainly never guess from the generic video game dialogue and plotting. The game is also very poor at explaining the setting or who everyone is, so if you haven’t seen the show you’ll be at a disadvantage – even if many times people seem to be acting out of character anyway.
Thankfully, the game’s visuals are more on message, as you scurry through the early 20th century streets of Birmingham in a series of timed missions. Time limits can often bring nothing but frustration but here they definitely add a sense of tension to what otherwise could be a rather dry experience. As in Commandos, each of the six playable characters have their own special abilities and while not all are good in a fight Ada’s ability to distract police or Finn being able to squeeze through small gaps are vitally important.
There’s a strong stealth element to the game, with everyone having vision cones that are clearly indicated onscreen and which you do no want to step into if you wish to avoid being seen. There’s also a puzzle element where you’re trying to get doors open or divert unwanted attention, none of which is very interesting on its own but when combined with having to control multiple players at once, and working under a time limit, does become more engaging.
Coordination is key but since that’s difficult when you’re trying to oversee multiple characters at once the game’s most unique idea is a rewind time option, so that you can get one gang member to where they need to be then rewind to sort out the others. Other games have played with time in a similar manner but while Mastermind’s implementation is more prosaic than something like Zelda: Majora’s Mask it’s still a welcome addition.
If you’re familiar with the Commandos games you’ll know they, and similar titles, tend to be extremely difficult but Mastermind is nowhere near as hard. There’s no penalty for rewinding time and it takes a long while for any of the missions to start offering any serious challenge. As a result, it’s not until the final two or three missions that things start to get properly interesting, as you’re finally given the opportunity to control almost all the characters at once and given much larger maps to play on.
The problem is there are only 10 missions, so just as the game starts to get interesting it’s all over. This is a pity because with the final missions you’re not only controlling multiple characters but splitting them up into teams and coordinating them so they set into motion events – diverting patrolling policemen or blocking off escape routes – that affect others all the way on the other side of the map.
We can only assume that developer FuturLab were worried about the show’s audience, who might not necessarily be regular gamers, being putting off by anything too complex but it’s a real shame that the game’s final couple of hours are the only time it really shows its full potential. And even then it feels like it’s only scratching the surface, with most situations only having one solution and no real freedom to create alternatives.
Regardless of whether there’s a sequel with the Peaky Blinders licence, Mastermind’s basic set-up is one that’s begging to be turned into a fully-fledged heist game. In the meantime, this a flawed tie-in that fails to mimic the tone and storytelling of the show and only comes alive in terms of gameplay in the final couple of hours. That’s better than not doing so at all though and hopefully it can work as a firm foundation for the future.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind review summary
In Short: A flawed attempt to adapt the show, that struggles when it comes to storytelling but has the makings of a great heist game.
Pros: The Commandos formula combined with a strict time limit and a rewind option is a very interesting way to approach a crime game. Decent graphics.
Cons: The game only gets interesting in the last three or four missions and even then there’s usually only one solution for each puzzle. Poor storytelling and dialogue.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release Date: 20th August 2020
Age Rating: 16
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