The virtual reality (VR) industry went through a stage of releasing movie and TV show tie-ins that were more “interactive experiences” than actual videogames. The Martian for example or Vader Immortal: A Star Wars Story, both fall into that category – although the latter is far better than the former. British VR studio Maze Theory is well versed in skirting this line having previously created Doctor Who: The Edge of Time in 2019 which was more tailored to fans than newcomers. In this Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom review I find that similar issues persist, even when wrapped in the glorious atmosphere of 1920s Birmingham.
Maze Theory really does know its stuff when it comes to bringing a TV show like Doctor Who or Peaky Blinders to life in VR. That first moment stepping onto the road leading up to The Garrison Pub, with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand playing away is thrilling. The level of detail and ambience squeezed into Quest 2 is remarkable considering it’s only a mobile chipset. Seeing the murky buildings towering above gives a grim reminder of what it must have been like living in these conditions only a few years after World War 1.
Loyal to the Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom sticks exactly to its television roots, not only in terms of locale but also narrative and cast. The storyline is original but follows classic lines. Rival gangs are embroiled in power struggles, with the Peaky Blinders facing off against The Winter’s Children and The Tong. Loyalty, revenge, and all the other hallmarks of the underworld come into play, centred around a very special government briefcase.
Working not only with the show’s production company, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom also benefits from stars Cillian Murphy and Paul Anderson reprising their roles as Tommy and Arthur Shelby, respectively. There’s no denying the exceptional level of voicing in the title, adding weight and depth to the experience. Fans will feel like they’ve been cast in the show itself.
And that’s where the first (of several) issues arise. Is the game trying to embellish itself to fans or entice those new to the world of Peaky Blinders? I most certainly say the former. If you’ve never seen an episode, then you can enjoy the 3-hour experience for what it is, an atmospheric crime caper. However, most (if not all) of the little touches will be lost on you, which poses a problem because this “game” is light on the gaming aspect.
Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom Story
You come into Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom as a recruit, formerly an army deserter who met Arthur whilst serving. As you’re on the run the gang offer to help with your problem if you help them with theirs, namely finding that briefcase. Unfortunately, the role you play is very fixed, with almost no leeway or character arch to influence. There are a couple of moments where you’re given a life-or-death decision but that’s about it. Otherwise, the entire experience follows a linear path, just like a TV show would.
Interacting with the Peaky universe is a very mixed affair. On the one hand Maze Theory has included plenty of interactive elements to ground you in the world. You can pick up glasses and pour yourself a drink. You’ve always got cigarettes and a lighter on you to smoke as much or little as you so please – don’t play this game if you’re trying to quit! There are radios you can fix and tune to different stations. Smash open boxes with hammers and even hang Chinese festival decorations up. All these combined add that flair and interaction a VR title needs. Yet they don’t make a game, only strengthen its core.
Sadly, that core isn’t quite there. Most of the time you’re wandering around looking for the collectables (of which there are many) letting the narrative play out. When you do get an action sequence arise, it’s very stilted, by the number’s scenario. Enemies will appear, shoot at you and stay exactly in the same place until you’ve killed them. They might duck behind cover occasionally, but that’s about it. And because you must move through the level along a certain path, there’s minor flexibility in trying strategies like flanking.
Small Heath struggles
In fact, during one scenario, I managed to miss the moment activating the entire scene. Thus, I wandered around for five minutes wondering why the entire place was a ghost town. During the “action,” you then find you can’t hold any ammo. There’s plenty around, sat atop red cases but unless you hold a clip in your other hand you can’t store it. Additionally, reloading is automatic, simply bring the clip near the gun and the game will do the rest. Kind of feels out of place in comparison to all those other interactive elements mentioned.
Our Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom review also finds the title plagued by little glitches. Always a struggle to use was the logbook. It serves to flesh out the narrative provides maps of the area and holds items like letters. It would zoom back and forth when trying to select a tab, or when picking an item out I’d grab the gun off my chest instead. My hands would get caught in the environment or placing an item down would suddenly see it ping off somewhere. At its worst, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom crashed requiring a full Quest 2 reset, even the Home button didn’t work.
Moments of clarity
Even with these complaints, The King’s Ransom offers fun, one-of-a-kind moments. Standing in the middle of a firefight to light a cigarette, taking a drag, exhaling a smoke ring then using my lighter to light a Molotov cocktail and lob it at a group of enemies felt exceedingly gangster. And sitting down to have a drink with Tommy in The Garrison was another highlight.
Once you’ve enjoyed the storyline, there’s not a great deal else to go back for. As mentioned, collectables are bountiful should you want to 100% the game. Cigarette cartons, tarot cards, bullets and trinkets, there is plenty to find if you like fetching stuff. Whilst accurate to the show, the locations aren’t expansive, easily finding each nook and cranny these items are hidden in. Furthermore, miss any on the first run through and you can freely explore every area once the game is completed. Albeit without a soul insight.
Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom Review
Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom perfectly encapsulates the TV show, staying true to the universe in every way. From the location detail and narrative to the voicing acting and character models of the main stars, Maze Theory has done a commendable job considering it runs on Meta Quest 2 (and PICO 4). Yet, this is a VR experience rather than some epic 1920s underworld videogame. The linear nature and simplistic gameplay will only endear it to loyal fans. Everyone else will wonder where the rest is.