I’ve never actually seen the TV show before but from what little info I could gather, it seems like a bad idea to fuck with the Peaky Blinders. That’s exactly what I did in this episode of VR Corner (above) though and, to be honest with you, the consequenses are nowhere near as bad as the Shelby’s make them out to be. In fact, I had a pretty good time!
Earlier this week, I was granted access to a press demo of Peaky Blinders that allowed me to smoke my way through the first few levels of the game. And I do mean smoke in the literal sense because, as you’ll see in my video, you can spawn and smoke as many virtual cigarettes as you can fit into your lungs. Cough.
Just like with Maze Theory’s previous TV tie-in, Doctor Who: The Edge of Time, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is a superfan’s dream come true. It gives you the ability to inhabit the world of your favourite TV show, interact with the cast, visit familiar locations and, most importantly, feel like you yourself are a part of the story.
This rigidity does come with a few downfalls as both the plot and gameplay here seems to stick to an extremely linear path that leads you by the hand at all times. This isn’t a TV show tie-in like The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners that gives you a known world and then lets you off the leash so you can make it your own. This is a carefully curated experience where you’ll only get to see and do exactly what the developers want you to.
Thankfully it does feel like Maze Theory has learned a lot from the reviews that came out after the release of The Edge of Time. The Doctor’s adventure was a lovely, Easter egg filled outing for fans sure, but the plodding action and minimalistic level design created a brief and highly forgettable experience for everyone else.
As you’ll see from the video above, the early levels of The King’s Ransom may be fairly small and linear, but there is a lot more interactivity to them compared to The Edge of Time. There’s also more detail, more characters to interact with and, crucially, more action. This means it feels more like a fully fledged immersive experience rather than just a short companion piece to a TV show or worse, a promotional tie-in.
It’s definitely not perfect at the moment though. While every inch of the world of Peaky Blinders seems to have been lovingly recreated (shout out to VR Cillian Murphy’s very realistic cheek bones), at this stage of development a lot of things still feel rather rickety or half-implemented, especially where combat is involved. Shooting and reloading your weapons is fine for instance, but you can’t store extra ammo on your person so you have to search the floor for more whenever you’ve emptied your weapon. Both the enemy and friendly AI is atrocious too, leaving the one shootout I experienced feeling more like a game of whack-a-mole than a deadly firefight.
In terms of visuals, everything I saw inside the Quest 2 looked great, save for a few rough edges here and there. Certainly the grit and grime of 1920s Birmingham was nice and sharp in the standalone headset, but I do wish I’d been able to try the demo on a high end PC to really make the most of the time machine that Maze Theory has built.
If you’re a big fan of the Peaky Blinders TV show, The King’s Ransom definitely looks like something you’re going to want to check out when it releases at some point this year. For everyone else, and I’m mainly talking to VR veterans who are used to much freer experiences here, I’m not sure this one will be worth much more than a quick peek. Unless you’re really into smoking cigarettes and just want to do it without destroying your lungs that is.