I’ve never seen Peaky Blinders, I’ve seen adverts for it and heard people talk about it, but never actually found the time to go back and watch all the episodes. However, once I saw the gameplay for Peaky Blinders: Mastermind and read how the mechanics worked, I had to try this game out as I love strategic puzzle games. Set before the TV series (which is good for me), prior knowledge of the show isn’t required so anyone can fully enjoy this unique blend of The Invisible Hours, Braid and Desperados III.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind forces you to play with time-manipulation as you take control of up to six characters from the show, controlling each one independently in order to reach their own individual goals and agendas, all whilst ultimately working together – it’s all very clever and works seamlessly. The developers, FuturLab, are probably most commonly known for their Velocity and Velocity 2X games, but they’ve managed to perfect a game which is about as far as you can get from any of the previous genres they’ve worked with.
So, let’s take a look at why Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is on my list of the top strategic games I’ve played this year…
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is set right before the first season of the TV show, you take control of the Shelby clan as you play out the rise of Tommy through ten missions. What starts out innocent enough, well, innocent for a criminal gang, soon turns nasty when you discover a sinister plot to put the family out of business – forcing Tommy to stand up and become the Mastermind behind stopping these events and getting revenge on those involved.
Sadly, the game is held together by non-voiced still images in the place of animated and voiced cutscenes. This took me out of the immersion a little as I feel the narrative and experience would have been greatly enhanced if either one of those elements were present. I understand that the developer and publisher aren’t that big, so probably couldn’t get the original TV show cast to step in and voice their digital doppelgangers, but they could have just hired any voice actors in my opinion. However, as I’m not a fan of the show, the possibility of different voices doesn’t bother me, but fans of the show may have had an issue with this – which is probably why they went with “official voices or none” and settled with ‘none’.
Each mission is self-contained with its own set goals and purpose within the narrative, leading towards the rather complex final levels where you’ll take control of all six characters at once. The game itself isn’t that hard – depending on the difficulty you select – but it’s very intuitive and unique, forcing you to think outside of the box and pre-plan future events on-the-fly.
Have you played Desperados III, or read my review on it? If so, you’ll have seen/used the pre-planning mechanic where you take control of every character and act out a set of actions, then push a single button and watch as they all play out seamlessly. Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is similar but it plays more like The Invisible Hours, a game in which you manipulate time to progress the story, only this time you’re creating the various timelines rather than simply watching them.
Basically, you control up to six of the characters at the same time – well, individually but at the same time. So, you’ll take possession of Tommy, for example, and aim to complete his set goal which may be talking to people or seeking out an item he has to pick up. Then, you rewind time and take control of another character, setting out to complete their goal whilst Tommy replays the things you’ve just had him do when you were in control. Things get even more interesting when you have to work together – so if Tommy reaches a locked door, you may have to use the other character to pull a switch or open it from the other side to let him in.
The mechanics within Peaky Blinders: Mastermind are amazing, everyone has to work together whilst you plan their events independently. You’ll also often come across ‘puzzles’ which involves you using certain people to clear the way so others can progress further.
To make the game that little bit harder, each level has a Gold, Silver, and Bronze time to try and beat. Getting the gold requires you to complete the level as efficiently as you can, wasting no time at all, and can be quite tricky in the later levels. One such level has a Gold time of 2min45 and you have to complete it in 3min19 or you lose – that mission took about an hour or more due to rewinding time and controlling multiple people throughout the stage.
One ‘feature’ I feel the developers should have included is the ability to watch the level play out upon completing it, letting you switch between each character and watch their story so you can plan your next attempt. This mechanic is within the Battlestar Galactica game and is the core mechanic within The Invisible Hours.
Although I struggled with a few missions, the game isn’t too difficult if you’re playing it on the normal difficulty. This displays each individual characters goals and places waypoints whilst you’re controlling them so you know where you have to go. Even with these, the final two missions are quite complex and large, so it’s still quite easy to feel overwhelmed and a little confused at what you need to do next. However, the difficulty in this setting is perfectly balanced for those who want to experience the story and play with the time-bending mechanics without too much fear of getting lost.
If you decide you’d rather have a challenge, you can turn off these markers and hints by playing on the harder difficulty. The timers and gameplay remain the same but you now have to work out what you’re doing yourself. I saw this morning that a few sites criticised this, saying there’s no point in the harder difficulty if you’ve already played it on Normal – well, duh. The game is the same, regardless of difficulty, so you should commit to one of them and swap if you feel it’s too easy or hard – not feel inclined to reply the game on the other difficulty straight after completing it on the other.
The game contains collectables in the form of pocket watches which are hidden within each mission. Most of these are easy to see and on the main path of your goal, but others are cleverly hidden or blend in with the background. Their purpose – trophies. These are the main reason you’ll be replaying the missions, these and trying to get a Gold time on each one. You’ll find it very hard past the third or fourth mission to achieve both within the same playthrough due to the location of some being off the beaten path.
A puzzle game in disguise?
Although the game looks like a well-designed ARPG from the outside, it’s actually a puzzle game hidden in plain sight. Not only are you forced to constantly rewind time after you’ve checked out what you have to do just so you can complete the same events more efficiently and faster, but there are a number of puzzle elements to try and solve. None of them are too difficult, the last few levels are a little confusing though, but they all revolve around using the characters and environment in order to solve them.
Because each character has certain passive and active abilities and skills, you have to constantly jump between the multiple characters once the game opens up and gives you a few to play with throughout the stage. The women will distract and/or pay off the enemies so they can’t see the men as they sneak past, Finn will crawl into small holes so he can open doors or pull levers from the other side, and the men can beat up the goons who block the path – but only if they’re facing them. For some reason, the Shelby family have some sort of code they follow which seemingly stops them attacking people from behind (yeah, I don’t understand it either, but it adds to the ‘puzzle element’).
I personally really enjoyed this approach and feel the developers have done a great job with the license. I’ve not seen the show but I feel like I want to watch it now as I want to see if it’s as interesting as this game. The narrative itself was fun to read, even if it was a little short and predictable, but the gameplay is where the game shone. I can’t recall the last time a licensed-based title was strategic and puzzle-based rather than being a mobile app, made for children, or a third-person action or racing game. It’s a nice change and works really well.
The visuals within Peaky Blinders: Mastermind are very nice, both the actual in-game graphics and the still image cutscenes. I would have prefered animated cutscenes or at least voiced ones with either the original cast or any other voice actors, but I still enjoyed it regardless – I even gave each character the voice I thought they would have within my video down below! The realistic yet slightly stylised visuals help create a game which looked very periodically correct and entertaining to explore.
The music within the game is good, I like the title music – but, where is the soundtrack that you can get on PC?! So many games launch on PC with soundtracks (it’s even free if you buy the game in the first week), but a lot of publishers don’t bother posting it on PSN as well – they should. As I said above though – there is no voice acting in any part of the game, so you’ll be reading all the dialogue to yourself both in-game and in the cutscenes. I’m not bothered as I play a lot of Visual Novels, so reading isn’t an issue, but some people may get put off by this and pulled out of the immersion – especially fans of the show.
The controls are nice and straight forward, allowing you to interact with people and use your abilities, as well as rewind and forward time as you operate each of the characters. There’s even a safety mechanism so you don’t accidentally alter someone’s timeline – you have to hold a button for a few seconds before you break the pre-recorded cycle. You see, if you’ve ‘programmed’ a string of events then rewind and move that character at any point before they end them, you’ve effectively erased their future, so this ‘are you sure’ mechanic is great for clumsy people like me!
One issue, which I found on two occasions, was where the ‘programmed’ characters broke free of what I told them to do. One of them walked into a wall, instead of through a door – breaking their future events – and another simply stopped moving. Now, this could be because another character triggered a new event which got in the way of this original person (butterfly effect), or it could be that Skynet is true and the AI has gained a life of its own and decided to disobey my commands. Either way, the mechanics are great but not perfect 100% of the time (in my experience).
In terms of the trophies – the platinum is fairly easy but you’ll have to play each stage a few times. Nothing is missable, as you can replay the levels at any time once completed, but trying to work super efficiently is a little tricky in later levels and finding all the pocket watches ‘can be’ difficult as some are well-hidden. Other than that, you’ll earn the majority of the others by simply playing the game as normal.
Although it’s not the longest or most immersive game out there, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a brilliant mix of puzzles, strategy and time-manipulation which will keep you hooked for hours. Taking control of each individual then swapping so that you can work in conjunction with your past self is very creative and the whole process works seamlessly. The lack of voices is a shame, as it loses some immersion due to this, but I enjoyed the narrative and dialogue, it held the game together nicely and linked all ten levels into one long story. As far as TV show tie-ins go, this is one of the best I’ve played for a while and will be enjoyed by puzzle and strategy fans whether you’ve actually seen the show or not.
I’ve recorded myself, along with a bunch of stupid and probably not appropriate voices, playing the first two levels of the game. I explain how the mechanics work whilst showing you – just in case it’s still a little confusing to understand. Check out the video below and let us know if you’d like us to provide more gameplay videos in the future.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind£19.99
- - Creative use of time-manipulation to solve puzzles and make your playthrough efficient
- - Lets you control all the characters at once, individually
- - The visuals are very nice and the music sets the right atmosphere
- - Basically a puzzle game in disguise
- - Interesting story set before the TV show
- - No voices and the cutscenes are just still images (although nicely drawn)
- - The 'gold' times are very tight on some stages
- - The game can be a little too easy if playing on Normal, I would have liked this mode to be 'Easy' and a more balanced 'Normal' mode with a few hints but not as much hand-holding
- - The game isn't too long