Games based on existing brands from other forms of media don’t have a good reputation. It seems even more rare that a game does something truly unique in its gameplay.
However, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind was able to provide both a game that fits well within the world of the BBC show, Peaky Blinders, and provides compelling puzzle-solving gameplay.
When I knew I was going to review this game, I had never watched the show, but was very familiar with developer Futurlab. The English studio made two of my all-time favorite games in Velocity Ultra and Velocity 2X. They both feature high-speed top-down shoot-‘em-up gameplay. On the surface, that is the opposite of Peaky Blinders: Mastermind, which is about planning and coordinating the actions of multiple characters. However, Futurlab has a knack for creating satisfying gameplay with minimal frustration and continues that here.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a puzzle game where you control each of the six main family members from the show. After binging the first season on Netflix, I can say they did well to match the tone and style. They also provided a compelling enough story that plays out like a season of the show. The family has to maneuver their way through a plot against them to avoid trouble with other gangs and the police.
You are required to use different characters to clear environmental puzzles, sneak by police or take out rival gang members to complete objectives. Individually, each of those things are standard. However, what makes Peaky Blinders: Mastermind stand out is its reliance on rewinding time. This isn’t like in Braid where things in the environment change after you rewind. This is rewinding time because what you tried the first time didn’t work so try it again.
Say you need to take out two members of a rival gang to get into a building, but there are police patrolling the area in between the family and the building. Each of the six characters have different abilities so they have to be deployed in a specific way. You need to use the fighters, Arthur and John, to take on the gang members, but they can’t be spotted by the police.
If you take Arthur straight to the gang members, the police will spot him. The game will pause and tell you to rewind and try again. This is as close to a fail state as Peaky Blinders: Mastermind has. You don’t reload the level or start over, you simply hit rewind and figure out a better way through. The beauty of the rewind feature is that you’re supposed to fail and there is no penalty for doing so. Explore the level, figure out what you’re supposed to do and find the solution.
In this hypothetical example you would need Ada and Polly to clear a path. Polly can bribe some police officers while Ada can distract them. After Arthur gets caught, you would rewind, switch characters and set out Ada and Polly to clear the way. Then you go back to Arthur and set him against the gang members. Oh wait, there are two gang members. Time to rewind again, switch to John and set him on the same path as Arthur so he doesn’t get overwhelmed in the fight.
The loop of exploring, failing, trying again, figuring out the solution and going back to perfect the routes works. Things may seem overwhelming at first in a level when you have multiple characters to coordinate, but seeing the actions line up in replay is gratifying. Tommy is stuck waiting for someone to open a door for him, but you already had Finn crawl through a small opening to open the door for him and there it is just when you need it. It just works.
The puzzles are mostly easy, although some of the challenge is trying to complete a level quickly enough to get the gold time. Even with the ability to rewind constantly and perfect a route I only hit gold on half the levels on my first try. Having gold, silver and bronze times is also something from Futurlab’s Velocity games.
As things get more complicated with more characters towards the last few levels, the game’s timeline helps sort things out. You can get an idea of which characters are doing what action and rewind or fast-forward with ease.
There are just 10 levels in the game and the first few are quick to solve. However, the last few took over an hour each to complete so there’s plenty of content here. There’s also some replay value if you want to get all the collectables or hit the gold times.
Visually, the game has a clean art style. Everything nails the look of post-World War I Birmingham, just like the show. The dialogue is text only. Voice acting could have really upped the presentation, but this is still a stylish game overall.
I am very picky with puzzle games, but this one worked for me. The more I played, the more I liked it. It took a bit to wrap my mind around how to play and what it was asking me to do, but I found the rewind feature freeing. I could screw up without significant consequence.
If you like puzzle games, this one may not be a challenge, but is different enough to make it worth playing. You don’t need to know anything about Peaky Blinders because the game’s story is self-isolated and simply told. It is set just before the first season of the show. If you like the show and aren’t sure about the game, the lack of a true fail state should make it more approachable and worth trying.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is out today on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
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