Set before the events of the hit TV show, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a puzzle-adventure game where Tommy Shelby and his gang, the Peaky Blinders, aim to instate their control over Small Heath, Birmingham, writes Barry O'Rourke.
Tommy and friends soon discover, however, there is already a sinister plot in motion to put the family out of business. With hints of police corruption, rival gangs, murder and theft from the get-go, everything about the premise feels familiar despite it being set before events of Season 1 of the show.
Like many great puzzle games, time is the main objective – but in Mastermind it is also a resource. Players can actively 'rewind time' mid-game to solve problems, correct mistakes or try a different strategy.
Mirroring Tommy’s ability to formulate and execute a cunning plan at the drop of a hat, the timeline mechanics of Mastermind feel brilliant. You control each character’s movements and must plot out a path for them to achieve an objective.
To add variety, each character in Mastermind has unique abilities which you must utilize across each map. Smooth-talker Tommy can, for example, convince people to help him by retrieving out of reach keys or to open locked doors. Polly can bribe policemen and lock pick doors. Arthur Shelby just kicks them down.
You will find yourself switching between characters regularly to figure out who needs to be where, doing what and when. Do it right, and you’ll have orchestrated 'the perfect mission', which ranges from stealing alcohol for a party to springing someone out from jail through the sewers.
A creative idea that takes far too long to shine
There is so much that Peaky Blinders: Mastermind does right, and so much it doesn’t utilize. The time mechanism is genius, and something I was immediately interested in playing with.
But I soon discovered there was no penalty (or reward) for using the feature to correct your mistakes. The earlier levels were more a case of try, try and try until something sticks. When levels became that bit longer, rather than rewinding time to spot my mistakes, I found it easier and less frustrating to just restart the level afresh.
Throughout the beginning and middle of the game, there are times your brain will thirst for more of a workout as there’s an over-reliance on simple things like flipping switches, opening doors and getting from A to B. It borders on repetitive which for a puzzle game, is not great territory.
That said, the final levels of Mastermind are where the game truly shines and shows just what the game was capable of delivering all along.
You will control all Peaky Blinders characters at the same time in the latter stages. With over 6 timelines to weave intricately together, these levels require more patience and creativity than the rest of the game combined and are a stark contrast in terms of difficulty and enjoyment.
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The story of Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is told through comic book styled cutscenes and Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and Helen McCrory all look magnificent as their on-screen characters.
Whilst there is no voice-acting from the original cast, the tone of early 20th century Birmingham is cemented by snappy dialogue, simple but effective level design and an enjoyable, grunge-like soundtrack.
Some levels, such as Tommy’s vivid memories of the First World War, are stand-out experiences and showed great promise in fleshing out an otherwise very closely-knit storyline.
While the game will take up to 5 hours or so to complete across 10 missions, there is replay potential for gamers who might thirst for the challenge of beating the game’s ‘best times’, some of which will test the mettle of any tactician.
On paper, Mastermind had all the ingredients to be a masterpiece, with a clever way of showcasing the mechanical genius of Tommy Shelby. And while Peaky Blinders: Mastermind does deliver some memorable challenges, for a game which aims to highlight quick-thinking and time management, the best it has to offer arrives far too late for my liking.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is out now on PlayStation 4.