Times were pretty bad in the UK just after WWI. There was the whole pandemic situation, for one thing, but the government had tanked the economy to fund the war effort and life for the working class had no real chance to improve compared to the late 19th century. Fertile ground for gangs to grow in influence and, a century later, perfect fodder for a hit TV series.
I am, of course, referring to Peaky Blinders and its upcoming video game adaptation, telling a story set right before the first series of the show. Whatever Peaky Blinders game you might imagine in your head, Peaky Blinders: Mastermind from Futurlab is quite different from what you might expect. In a good way.
What Futurlab have done to let you manage and control your Peaky Blinders in real time is absolutely fascinating. This could have been a game in the vein of Commandos, as you command a group of gang members, setting traps and lying in wait as enemies patrol (while also liberally using a Quick Save feature). It could even have been a turn-based tactical game, where you can agonise over every decision before putting it into play. But Futurlab have skirted neatly around such parallels, instead leaning on time manipulation and putting control of the clock that you’re racing against in your hands.
At any point you can pause the game, wind time back and forth, pick a starting point and try again. Except it’s not just correcting your failures, it’s also controlling multiple characters, putting together a series of events one character at a time, hopping back and forth to use all of their abilities in tandem like the double/triplequadruple cross montage at the end of a heist film. It’s not quite as glamorous in reality, but it feels almost as good – I imagine, because I’ve never been in a heist film.
Tommy Shelby is always at the heart of this – he is, after all the anti-hero whose rise to prominence this game is telling – and at various stages he’ll be working alongside other Peaky Blinders. Tommy can sweet talk many a commoner, convincing them to do him just a little favour for a few moments, but he will get spotted in a heartbeat if he walks into a rival gang member’s cone of vision. Ada’s womanly woman…ness allows her to walk through undetected and even wander over and distract a guard by chatting them up for a few moments. Finn, on the other hand, is able to scrabble through small holes in gratings.
Putting it all together through a level has you hopping back and forth between characters, running through a handful of actions with one character, then rewinding and performing some complimentary actions with another, then taking over with the other, and on, and on. Through the game’s opening missions, it’s relatively easy to think ahead and come up with the solution to the puzzles, the order of events that need to happen well before you’ve finished forging ahead with one of the two characters.
Admittedly, it’s a bit simplistic to ease you into things, but that’s just left me eager to see how complex the puzzles can become. Racing against the clock that you control is an intriguing concept though, asking you to rewind and re-run or re-sequence events to shave tenths of a second off here and there and sneak under the time needed for a Gold award.
So sure, a few levels in, I’m still waiting for Peaky Blinders to show the true depths of its potential complexity, but it’s easy to see what a masterful system Futurlab have created to let you inhabit the mind of Thomas Shelby.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is coming to PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch a little later this summer.