Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom Review
I’ll be blunt right off the bat and say it. After a decent start, the Meta Quest 2 is in dire need of some new and interesting games to fill out its library. I’ve had the VR headset from Day 1 and I haven’t seen many new titles in a while that I’d be excited for. That is, except for Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom, coming March 9th from Maze Theory. The trailers look good, and the mix of action with the promise of a decent narrative adventure and cool period environments has definitely caught my interest. Now that I’ve had a chance to play it, my reactions are a bit mixed. It’s a good game overall, but not quite as incredible as I was hoping.
In the category of what’s good, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom has a beautifully-rendered world to play in. The time is 1928 and the place is good old Birmingham England (and later London). It was a bleak place back then, to be sure. Modern ideas such as communism were clashing with the old, still-persistent Victorian social order, and social upheaval was the norm. A ne’er-do-well in search of a fresh start, you’re plunked, first-person, in the middle of an ongoing battle between the local communists and the Shelby crime family (which TV fans will know well). Your first job: beat important information out of a poor sod being held in the infamous Garrison Tavern.
A Colorful Cast
The authentic historical immersion is enhanced by nicely detailed environments. Walking through warehouses and alleyways, I marveled at the brick walls with faded posters stuck to them as smokestacks towered overhead. Windows — some broken — give glimpses of oil lamp-lit Dickensian scenes inside houses and shops. The level of detail is better than in Quest 2 games I’ve played before, such as Maze Theory’s own Doctor Who: The Edge of Time.
Mind you, the detail is a bit deceptive. The Garrison itself, as a case in point, looks great. But it is just one small room with nobody else in it most of the time. Go up the stairs and you hit a dead end. So despite the detail there’s a “blocked off” and superficial quality to Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom throughout. The surface looks great but it feels like, well … a fake TV set at times. I guess that’s ironically fitting? Overall, the detail is great as long as you don’t dig too deep.
The characters in Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom, much like its namesake show, are also a major strength. There are lots of brash blokes and birds populating the game’s story to keep you interested. And their colorful accents and period lingo give the immersive thrill that made previous VR classics like Blood & Truth so cinematic and fun to play. Those who watch the Peaky Blinders show will know many favorites right away: among them Tommy and Arthur Shelby (voiced by the original TV cast members), and Polly Gray. Voice work is great, although as a player who isn’t a veteran of the series, I had to pay close attention at times to make out everything these fast-talking gangsters were saying to me. Thank god for the Journal I could pull from my back that told me what to do next.
I do wish that those great voice actors were done better justice by the character models, though. I felt a significant uncanny-valley affect as facial expressions and body movements looked a bit robotic. It’s not that Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is visually worse than other VR titles I’ve played. It’s just that I was disappointed to see that it isn’t any better. Blood & Truth, for example, is a four year old game, and it was on par with Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom visually. Maybe it’s the limitations of the cord-free Quest 2 at work here. But it’s a shame that Maze Theory couldn’t find a way to push the medium a bit further with this title.
Gameplay is varied and mostly fun, thankfully. This is an adventure title, so you’re tasked with doing various things to keep the story progressing. Sometimes, you’ll fetch things for people. Then, you might have to defuse bombs while your partner holds off some communist attackers. After that, you’ll make your own bombs out of cans and powder. Then you’ll engage in a gun fight. And so on.
The narrative has a bit of a linear pattern. But you’re doing a lot of different and interesting things to keep things fresh and engaging throughout. And of course, drink a lot of gin. Along the way, the game has collectibles sprinkled about for you to collect. It would have been nice if these led to some sort of upgrade system. But it’s fun to search every corner to find cigarette packs, pocket watches, tarot cards and other treasures nevertheless.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Like any good VR game, there’s a lot of “hands-on” gameplay in Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom. And this helps with immersion. To make the aforementioned bombs, you pour the powder into a can, put on a lid, and even stick the fuse in the top. Then, as you toss it, you naturally have to pull out your trusty lighter and light the fuse. Be prepared to crouch down, duck behind boxes, and use your arms and hands a lot when you play this game. This isn’t a great VR game to play lying down in bed or sitting in a chair. And let’s be clear: that’s a good thing. The realistic gameplay in Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom makes you feel like you’re a real gangster … or at least, a real TV gangster.
I must mention that there were some bugs and technical blips when I played. One time, an NPC took my gun away before I could enter the Shelbys’ betting parlour, and my gun got stuck to his finger. He took puffs on his cigarette, talking, while my gun went up and down like it was glued to his hand. There were also lots of smaller glitches, like blowing street trash that blew right through people’s bodies. None of these were game breaking. But I must say they took away from the general feel of immersion the game had otherwise done pretty well to establish.
I had bigger hopes for this one. But still Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is a fun VR adventure game that you’ll enjoy. You don’t have to be a fan of the TV series to enjoy the game, but it helps. Either way, there’s a solid narrative to experience, first-person. And the gameplay is fun and varied, even if the world feels like a beautiful animatronic amusement park ride at times. If you’re a bloke who fancies a good wallop and a bust up at the local boozer, give Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom a look.
** A Meta Quest 2 code was provided by the publisher **
- Authentic detailed world
- Good voice acting
- Interesting narrative
- Mediocre character models
- Some bugs
- Environments are superficial