The moment I stepped foot in that famous Garrison Alley in Small Heath, I was hooked. Flames blazed from the firing furnaces as the tune of Red Right Hand blared in my ears, all set to the dismal and gloomy backdrop of 1920s Birmingham. It's not a place anyone would likely ever want to visit if it weren't for the show Peaky Blinders.
In Peaky Blinders: The King's Ransom for the Oculus Quest 2 and Quest Pro, you'll take the role of a chap named Samuel Taylor who has been away from Birmingham for 10 years after some sort of incident that left him speechless (literally). In the game, you'll smoke, you'll drink, you'll shoot lots of people, and prove yourself to be a loyal member of the Peaky Blinders.
It appears to be a heavily story-driven game with levels that allow free roaming, including lots and lots of collectibles and story pieces along the way. You'll find notes, tarot cards, cigarette cartons, and you can pick up and interact with many objects along the way.
The demo I got to play included two levels from the main game, including the first chapter and the tenth chapter. I played it on the Meta Quest Pro but the game looks and performs identically on the Quest 2. The game is set to release on the Meta Quest platform and PC VR on March 9th, 2023
A visit to old Birmingham
The demo opened up in a box truck with Rowena Fox at the wheel and your character in the back. From the sounds of things, the Peaky Blinders are at war with the Bolsheviks and your truck goes through a bit of a rough patch on the way to Peaky HQ. Although you can't see outside of the truck you can certainly hear what's happening.
The introductory portion of the game introduces you to the mechanics organically, having you pick up your journal, move and look around, and follow through all the usual first-time sequences that you would expect. I'm glad it's part of the story and not some silly separate area as it makes these sequences fit in better.
Exiting the shop and heading down Garrison Lane was a treat for the eyes. Visually, the game is pretty fantastic on the Quest. The environmental textures look really good and the character models are detailed, even if those character model textures are pretty simple. Quest hardware is only so good, after all, so if you're looking for the best visuals you'll definitely want to play it on a VR-ready gaming PC.
As you progress through the game's various story sequences, characters will interact with and talk to you as the player, each voiced by their respective actors from the show. These voices lend a serious sense of legitimacy to each character, even if character animations are a bit stiff.
At any given time, you'll find alcohol and cigarettes littered around the environment that can be picked up and used. Neither seems to impair you as a player. Rather, it feels more like a bit of role-playing that can help a player get into their character better. Tommy Shelby even offers you a cigarette and lights it when you first meet him — after all, the Peaky Blinders were pretty well known for their debauchery.
Based on this 30-minute demo, it seems that most areas are designed to offer up specific story sequences. Each area had several spots that I could explore and wander around, though, including stairwells on Garrison Lane that contained hidden items and hand-written letters that lend to the story. Even the Garrison Pub contained several little collectibles to find if you're into that sort of thing.
I only came across one sort of "puzzle" in the two chapters I got to play, so I'm not sure how varied the gameplay will be over the game's entire story. Considering it took me 25 minutes or so to move through both chapters, it seems like this could be a pretty satisfyingly long game, depending on how many chapters are included. That, of course, assumes that these chapters weren't cut short for the purpose of the demo.
During the chapter in the scrapyard, the game offered branching paths that let you choose which character you could help and which area you'd go through in the maze of boxes and scrapped cars. I'm not sure how much replayability this will offer in the final game and if your choices will have a long-lasting impact on characters and the story, but it certainly bodes well for possibilities.
Throughout the game, you'll meet important people and find story clues in the form of letters and other written materials along the way, all of which find their way into your handy journal. Just as in The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, you can grab your journal from your left shoulder at any time.
This handy little book contains character profiles, maps, and lots of written detail about your exploits. The beginning of the game even had me choose from a list of options to write my own entry, implying that some sort of branching storylines in the game exist, similar to the branching paths found in some levels.
Likewise, Tommy's first job for you is to kill one of "Aberama's men" that's tied up in the small meeting room in the pub. You can either go in there and shoot him or just walk out of the pub. While you'll almost certainly have to shoot loads of people in the game, it's nice to have the choice not to kill every once in a while.
While the gunplay in this level was good enough and felt solid, the enemies weren't particularly smart. For the most part, it was a shooting gallery where you'd move cover-to-cover Gears of War style and take down the enemies that head your way.
You could even grab Molotov cocktails and light them with your handy lighter to eliminate multiple enemies at once. I'm hoping the developers ramp up the difficulty for the final game, though, as it never felt like a challenge to complete these sequences.
While the game's voice actors were incredibly authentic, that heavy Birmingham accent is a bit difficult to understand at times, especially when the music kicks up. I didn't notice an option to enable subtitles, so I'm hoping this crops up before the final retail version of the game comes out.
The usual bevy of comfort options are available, including blinders to help reduce motion sickness, smooth or snap turning, and a handful of other options. You can even smoothly move using the left joystick or teleport via the right joystick at any time.
All in all, I'm excited about the final game if, for no other reason, than to learn more about Tommy Shelby and his gangster empire. Now that the show's final season has aired, the only way to get my Peaky fix is with other media like this. What better way to experience that than by being in the actual world itself? I certainly can't think of one.
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