Review – Peaky Blinders: Mastermind
I started watching Peaky Blinders not long ago, and immediately fell in love with it. It’s a fantastic take on the gangster genre, being set in post-war Birmingham (the British one, not the Alabama one), not only tackling your typical less-than-legal gangster affairs, but also the rise of class struggle in Britain, as well as the effects of World War I on the morale and mentality of the entire country’s population. It is a fantastic show to adapt into a video game, and I was looking forward to see what Futurlab and Curve Digital would do with the source material.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is not exactly based on any particular season of the hit show. In fact, it is its own thing, and considered canon by the showrunners. It is set before the first season, acting like a small prequel-but-not-really side story that showcases what the Shelby siblings ended up doing right after coming back from war. You don’t need to have seen the entirety of the show in order to understand what’s going on. You only need a rudimentary knowledge of the main characters in order to fully understand Mastermind‘s plot and setting. I recommend watching the entirety of Season 1 before playing the game, you’ll be absolutely good to go afterwards.
The gameplay in Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is quite unique, but sadly, that doesn’t mean it’s either deep or engaging. This a weird mix between an isometric adventure and a puzzle game with some slight strategic elements. Each level is faily linear, comprised of a handful of straightforward maps with a few objectives each, most of them being comprised of going from point A to point B, all while avoiding obstacles and solving small puzzles on the way.
You do that by controlling the members of the Shelby family, all at the same time. Peaky Blinders: Mastermind‘s main gimmick is the fact that you can select a member of the Shelby family, perform whichever action you need, then pause the game, rewind time, select another Shelby member, and then perform another action while the game repeats what you’ve just done with the other character, essentially letting you control a bunch of characters simultaneously. You can even use Tommy Shelby’s influence to briefly control other characters scattered throughout the levels in order to reach previously inaccessable rooms and switches.
It is a great idea on paper, but it doesn’t pay off. Due to a combination of weird button combinations, occasional AI glitches, and uninteresting level design, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is nowhere near as deep or engaging as it thinks it is. It reminded me of another Curve Digital-published game based on a hit TV show with some strategic elements, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels. It’s all very undercooked, and I can’t tell if it’s due to uninspirted creative decisions or an overall lack of budget, as the game feels way too cheap as a whole.
The graphics are one of the most underwhelming aspects about this game. There are some elements that are worthy of praise, such as the faithful recreation of some of the show’s most famous locales like the Garrison pub and the Shelby betting office, all in isometric form, but everything looks way too half-baked. The models look half-baked, and if it wasn’t for the huge character portrait that is shown whenever one of them speak, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish Tommy from John, for instance. Textures are underwhelming, and the framerate is unimpressive, even though the game barely makes use of the PS4’s hardware. Finally, all of the game’s cutscenes are presented with static pictures, and they don’t look very good.
You can already imagine that the game doesn’t feature the voice talent from the show. There’s no Cillian Murphy, no Helen McCrory, no voice acting at all. Everything is presented in text, and you can definitely tell that the script wasn’t written by the big shots who write the show’s fantastic dialogue. There are tons of moments in which all I could think was “Tommy would never say such a thing”. With that being said, I actually liked the game’s sound department for one big reason: the soundtrack. Peaky Blinders is famous for its fantastic blues rock soundtrack, and I was pleasantly surprised when I was presented to a handful of pretty good songs all throughout the game. There’s some salvation in here after all.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a game with some good ideas, but I can’t recommend it to anyone, especially fans of the show. Its visuals are bland, its lack of voice acting is disappointing, its script is amateurish, and its gameplay loop, while interesting, is hindered by control issues, glitches and underwhelming level design. While I’m glad that some publishers are still keeping the licensed title flame alive (an Achilles’ heel of mine), a source of inspiration like Peaky Blinders deserved a much better product than what we ended up getting.
It is a very faithful representation of the show’s setting in isometric form, but it features excessively simplistic models, underwhelming textures, an unreliable framerate, as well as static (and ugly) cutscenes. In short, it looks like a mobile game at best.
You control all members of the Shelby family at the same time with a time rewind mechanic. It’s an interesting concept that is hindered by confusing controls, occasional glitches, and bland level design.
The lack of voice acting is disappointing, but the game does retain one notable feature from the series: its fantastic blues rock soundtrack.
Fun Factor: 5.5
Such a rich and engaging source material deserved a better game than what we ended up getting. Mastermind has some neat ideas, but it’s not very fun to play. It also lacks the smart script from the TV show.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Peaky Blinders: Mastermind was provided by the publisher.