Based on the multi-award-winning BBC TV show, FuturLab’s Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a mechanically masterful puzzle-adventure that can’t quite reach the storytelling heights of its source material with the disappointingly short campaign length.
Set right before the events of the show’s first season, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind lets you take control of the primary figures in the Shelby clan in a frantic race against time to uncover a plot aiming to dismantle the titular Peaky Blinders, a real-life urban gang that’s largely populated with the working class youths of 1900s Brummies.
Although this prequel plotline offers an intriguing look at the gang as they attempt to discover their place after returning from The Great War, Mastermind isn’t as strongly written or as memorable as the long-running series. It’s sparse sprinkling of cutscenes tease a glance at what could have been, but elsewhere the game’s short four-to-five-hour campaign barely scratches the surface of its narrative potential.
Despite its short campaign, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind absolutely excels in the gameplay division. As cliché as it sounds, Mastermind‘s clever tactical gameplay loop does make you feel like the leader of the Birmingham gang, all the way down to the accents. In each of the game’s 10 tightly constructed levels, you’ll be able to execute complex plans in perfect coordination by completing a variety of well-designed puzzles while taking control of the members of the Shelby family including Tommy, Arthur, John, Finn, Ada, and Polly.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind isn’t just a simple tactical shell; each battle sees you toying with a masterfully designed timeline mechanic that records every decision you make in your playthrough, reminding you that time is not on your side. Each input is rendered important: whether you’re taking down an enemy or simply skulking around, each move is an important part of the puzzle.
At any point, you’ll be able to pause, rewind and fast-forward time to pick a starting point and try a puzzle again, a crucial way of remedying your screw ups. However, time manipulation isn’t simply used to correct your past mistakes, as much as you may need it, you’re also able to use it to try and shave few seconds off each interaction to stay ahead of the clock, swap between multiple characters, neatly put together a series of events, and use all of their unique abilities to satisfyingly complete several plans in perfect unison – like a playable heist movie in a top-down perspective.
While the opening two levels of the game tamely hold simplistic solutions to introductory puzzles, each consecutive mission introduces a fresh new ability associated with a new member of the Peaky Blinders gang for you to utilise and strategically solve the increasingly difficult scenarios – sometimes using two, three, even four characters all at once.
Tommy Shelby can persuade certain people to complete actions such as activate levers to open doors. Arthur and John have the ability to brawl with thugs in synchronised takedowns, but Arthur has a unique trait of kicking down weak doors, while John can use oil lanterns to burn down obstacles in their path. Finn is able to crawl through small spaces and pickpocket certain characters for key items. Ada and Polly, on the other hand, can walk through enemies field of vision without being detected, but Ada can distract guards to help other characters move forward, while Polly can bribe hostiles to permanently disable their vision cones and can lockpick gates.
Each situation held within the intricate sandboxes of Peaky Blinders: Mastermind feels like a moresome snack, but unfortunately the packet quickly runs dry. Size is by far the game’s biggest flaw; while it’s obvious that the developers have clearly crafted a title bent on replayability, you can’t help but crave more unique and challenging scenarios to think your way through.
For collectible hunters and perfectionists, there are options just for you. Not only does the game scatter collectable pocket watches throughout the world – some located behind some particularly tricksy puzzles – but the completion of each level gives you a graded medal of gold, silver or bronze depending on your final time.
Although the game is far from perfect, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is the title Peaky Blinders fans have been waiting for. While the rather disappointing campaign length and slightly underwhelming form of storytelling may leave players desiring more, the expertly designed puzzles offer a satisfying time manipulation system that few games ever master. We just crave more.