I sat down for a drink with Thomas Shelby.
Earlier this year, VR developer Maze Theory (Doctor Who – The Edge of Time) announced Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom, an original VR game based on the hit BBC series. We have now learned that the highly-anticipated VR gangster simulator will be arriving on Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro VR headsets on March 9th, 2023.
The announcement was made yesterday at the 40th Golden Joystick Awards, during which the developer shared a new cinematic trailer. Set in 1920s Birmingham, the single-player action game has you playing the role of Samuel Taylor, a silent protagonist who returns to Birmingham after leaving 10 years ago under mysterious circumstances. In order to avoid the firing squad, you’ll need to assist the family patriarch Thomas Shelby in all of his shady dealings.
“It’s almost time for Peaky Blinders fans around the world to step back in time 100 years and team up with the Shelbys,” said Tim Jones, game director at Maze Theory. “Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom will allow players to explore the mean streets of 1920s Birmingham in an authentic virtual reality experience inspired by the hit TV drama series. We can’t wait to let Tommy loose this March!”
We had a chance to go hands-on with a brief 30-minute demo earlier this week, and despite a few rough patches I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the role of a ruthless 1920s gangster.
The demo began in the back of a rundown box truck helmed by Rowena Fox, a loyalist smuggler, who’s transporting you to Peaky Blinders headquarters, aka The Garrison Pub. Once you arrive at her shop, you have a moment to familiarize yourself with the controls. On the left and right side of your hip, you’ll find an old-school lighter as well as an infinite supply of cigarettes. This is a Peaky Blinders game after all.
Fox’s shop is littered with hidden collectibles, such as various tarot cards personal letters that shed more light on the characters and their relationships. All of these notes are stored in a nifty little journal you can access at any time by reaching over your left shoulder. Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom rewards you for exploring your environment. For example, on the wall of the shop, you’ll find a dartboard and chalkboard. Interacting with these items elicits a unique response from Fox. You can even repair an old radio.
From here you exit the shop onto the infamous Garrison Lane, at which point arguably the coolest title sequence in video game history ensues. Walking down Garrison Lane past the sparks and smoke emanating from the nearby steel factory feels incredibly satisfying, especially when paired with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.”
Once you’ve arrived at the pub you’ll be greated by Thomas Shelby, who’ll offer you a drink before explaining your duties as a goon for the Peaky Blinders. I’ll admit, having a drink with Tommy was a cool experience made even better thanks to the voice talents of Cillian Murphy, the actor who plays Thomas Shelby in the original show.
Before exiting the pub, Tommy tasks you with killing a gentleman tied up in the front. This is where the game introduces a bit of decision-making gameplay. You can use the pistol provided to kill the unidentified man or simply exit the bar. Personally, I chose to frighten our guest with a series of warning shots before departing. It’s not clear how your decisions will impact the game, though we can only assume that the choices you make will play a role in how other characters perceive you.
The rest of the demo is more-or-less a glorified shooting range, and an entertaining one at that. After making contact with Arthur Shelby (voiced by Paul Anderson), you engage in a high-stakes gunfight with several waves of baddies. The gunplay, while simple, feels solid. That said, enemy AI (artificial intelligence) did feel a bit wonky at times. Enemies will often shoot at you from out in the open, making them paintfully easy targets. The game is still a work-in-progress, however, so we’ll hold our final judgement until the full release.
In addition to your pistol, you also have access to molotov cocktails which can be ignited using the lighter attached to your right hip. While these handmade firebombs are fun to use, I do wish we were able to light them using a lit cigarette for a more dramatic effect. While smoking has no impact on your peformance, it does help better immerse you in the experience. Personally, I’d love to see more interesting use-cases for your lighter and cigarettes beyond simple role-playing.
Overall, I genuinely enjoyed my time with the brief 30-minute demo. Maze Theory did a phenominal job bringing the unique style of the show to life in VR. From the atmospheric environments to the satisfying gunplay and believable characters, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is shaping up to be a stellar single-player experience.
We’re excited to learn more when Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom launches on Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro VR headsets on March 9th, 2023 for $29.99. For more information visit here.
Feature Image Credit: Maze Theory