First Look: Blackreef Pirates

I can think of few things more fun than lacing up the ol’ cuffed boots and jumping into an iDevice for a pirate adventure! That’s why we’ve kept an eye on Subvert Games’ Blackreef Pirates, a free-roaming RPG that’s been just as impressively documented in public as it is epic in scale. Windows, Mac and iPad versions are all on the devs’ agenda, so we figured it was about time to fire up the Unity web alpha and check out how the early gameplay is shaping up.

Onlookers have compared Blackreef Pirates to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its dialogue response system is certainly a dead ringer for that Xbox classic. The alpha gives few hints as to what Blackreef’s story is all about, however; its real purpose is to usher the player straight into combat practice. Fans of MMO-influenced RPGs should feel right at home with Blackreef’s real-time system, where the player gives a weapon select command and lets the pirate whack away at his target until moved or directed at a new enemy. Live enemies aren’t on tap in the public build quite yet, but the Blackreef dev blog hints at some tasty stealth action thanks to line-of-sight and hearing systems enemies will be equipped with.

While it provides only a brief introduction to Blackreef’s gameplay, the Unity web alpha makes for an impressive tech demo: the player can already sense Blackreef’s wide-open feel, and character models are genuinely expressive during their dialogue close-ups. I, for one, can’t wait to see how the interface shapes up on a touchscreen. With the player character able to switch among eight different weapons in real time, it’s clear that Blackreef’s design calls for the iPad’s large screen. Then again, we have seen pirate-themed games juggle lots of virtual buttons on smaller touchscreens reasonably well in the past. The developer hasn’t completely ruled out support for smaller iDevices, so perhaps we’ll be treated to a surprise down the road.

And that road looks to be a long one! Developed by a two-man team, Blackreef is the epitome of an indie labor of love. The Subvert Games development blog offers a delightful – and sobering – behind-the-scenes look at just how much work goes into a project of this scale. If you like what you see so far, drop them some love in their comments sections or on the Subvert Facebook and Twitter accounts! Here’s their one-year anniversary review showing off the game’s hard-won progress: