We can't quite remember when we got distracted by something else and stopped watching Peaky Blinders. All we can say is that Scarecrow was in it, Bane wasn't, and the nice palaeontologist from Jurassic Park was a rotter. We'll have to go back to it one day.
Anyway, tie-in video game Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a prequel to the series that requires no knowledge of the television show to understand, so newcomers or strategy fans unfamiliar with the Shelby clan can enjoy it. Well, kinda enjoy it. Maybe.
Mastermind is a strategy game in which you set a character on a path of actions, then rewind time and do the same for another, and then another, syncing up to accomplish a common goal within a strict time limit. As an example, Tommy can convince certain NPCs to do his bidding, while his brother Arthur can kick down some doors or chin specific baddies. Ada is a woman so that means she can distract guards by fluttering her eyelashes and twirling her handbag.
So you might be in a scenario where there's a door guarded by two wrong 'uns, and you can't knock one of them out without the other seeing you being naughty. You can instruct Ada to strut up to one of the guards and pout to take him out of the game, then rewind, and simultaneously tell Arthur to take care of the other guard by punching him real hard in the face.
Tommy, a clever sort who uses words and not his fists to sort his problems out, can then convince an NPC on the other side of the door to open it so our three amigos can then go through and have a celebratory Blue WKD back at the bar.
As the game progresses you'll gain access to half a dozen characters with specific roles to fill, and the missions that you take on become more and more elaborate. The big problem with Mastermind is that the game ends just as it is becoming interesting from a gameplay perspective, and so while the last couple of levels do occasionally hit some high notes, they're the exception rather than the rule.
Of the ten levels on offer here, the first five or so rarely become more challenging than a DVD menu, and it's only for the last few where you'll be using all of the characters in interesting ways to navigate a complicated mission. All told, playing through the game once is unlikely to take longer than five or six hours and only a couple of those will truly give you pause for thought.
Another issue is that Mastermind feels a little too restrictive, in that you basically have to complete every mission in a specific way and any time you try to be too clever or stray from the path the developers have laid out you'll hit a wall. If you play on normal difficulty the game even tells you most of the time which character should be going where, and on some occasions, outright reveals how to proceed.
There's huge gaps in logic as pertains to some of the skills too, with the most egregious example we found being that Arthur can knock certain baddies out but only face-on. In a late-game mission where a guard is blocking a door but facing the other way, you can't take him out from behind, and instead must work your way around half the level to attack him from the other side. Perhaps Arthur's a man of honour and wouldn't sully his good name by surprise attacking an enemy, but we found this pretty annoying.
Once you've beaten a mission there's the option to play it again on Hard which removes all hints and waypoints, but if you've already played on Normal then you'll probably remember how to do it so it shouldn't be much of an issue. There's also hidden collectable pocket watches to find but we found most of these without trying so this is unlikely to keep you scratching your head for very long.
The story is original and is set before the events of the series, and that hinders the game more than it helps. If you've never seen the show then the glib narrative and dialogue here won't teach you much about the characters and so you're unlikely to become attached to them enough to care about what happens. If you have seen the show then you already care about the characters, but you also know that the game is a prequel, so none of them are in any danger whatsoever. As such, regardless of whether you're a fan of Peaky Blinders or not, Mastermind's story is unlikely to impress.
The tale is told in a series of static cut-scenes complemented by text, and involves all of the usual hallmarks of the television series. There's shady coppers, rival gangs, and a bit of banter between the Blinders. But the dull delivery and flat dialogue means that Mastermind never feels like a true companion to the show and instead more of a cheap spin-off that seems superfluous to the overarching lore.
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind is a strategy game that requires very little strategy for much of its short running time. While it does eventually present a little more challenge in the closing chapters, the hum-drum narrative and bargain-basement cut-scenes won't provide you with much incentive to persevere through the duller moments which make up most of the game. If you're a massive fan of the show waiting for the next season, then you're probably better off just forming your own gang while talking in a comedy Brummie accent.