Title: Cross of The Dutchman
Version Tested: PC
Where To Buy: Steam
Cross of the Dutchman is an adventure game loosely based on the story Pier Gerlofs Donia, a medieval farmer from western Europe, who took up arms against the invading Saxons, and eventually went on to rally and lead his countrymen against the invaders. The developers, Triangle Studios, claims to have invested a great deal of time and effort into researching the history of Pier, and the clothing and architecture of the time. After playing the game, I found that while there is a light history lesson to be had here, and I certainly appreciate the effort the developers put into their research, this an adventure game. It never quite delves deeply into history that underpins the Saxon invasion and doesn’t try to paint a story about what lead Pier and his comrades to risk their lives take arms to save their community. Nevertheless, it is a fun, short and entertaining indie game that is a great way to spend a couple of hours hacking at enemies and learning some new things about world history.
Gameplay for Cross of the Dutchman is extremely simple but well polished. In this game, you will be pummeling hordes of enemy soldiers, interrupted only by the occasional cutscene or stealth section. There is no blocking, dodging or combos; combat consists purely of basic and special attacks consisting of punches and later on, sword attacks. It’s a hack n slash at it’s core, and has a similar feel to Diablo. Since there is no block mechanic, the game can sometimes get overwhelming. I found the best strategy was to lure enemies into a cluster, pop off an area-of-effect special attack, then pick off the stragglers with my basic attack, retreating to regenerate health when needed. Players can probably try to invent different strategies, but seeing as bashing enemies are virtually your only means of combat, it is pretty hard to do.
The player can purchase new special attacks with gold gathered from fallen enemies or smashing barrels, adding a much-needed touch of variety to the repetitive combat. Although the special attacks available for purchase aren’t especially interesting, they help make the combat more enjoyable. It also helps that Pier is comically massive and strong, and it never gets old hearing him bellow manly war cries while punching my way through a thousand soldiers. And considering how short Cross of the Dutchman is, I feel simplistic mechanics helped progress the game at a steady pace. A more complex system would have been wasted as you would be done with the game by the time you properly figure out how everything works.
There are also stealth levels, in which the player must evade guards with lanterns pacing around the landscape. Most of the time, I enjoyed having a break from combat in the way of stealth and thought that the levels were executed decently for the most part. There are a few unfortunate problems while in stealth mode, however; such as the lack of environment to interact with, i.e., no boxes to hide in, minimal bushes to avoid detection in, you can’t sneakily take out guards, and the biggest detriment being different paths end abruptly, or what looks like a hiding point ends up being a blockade. And since there are lots of guards, you get caught, being forced to redo the entire level. I wish the game auto-saved more often, getting caught and having to repeat stealth sections was irritating.
The art style for Cross of the Dutchman is quaint, vibrant and charming. It was refreshing to see a game with such a vibrant color pallet after trudging through the dull wasteland of Fallout 4 for so many hours. Cutscenes are still image slideshows consisting of a few hand drawn frames with text. Despite being somewhat cartoonish in appearance, they served their purpose well, enhancing Piers character and struggle, while bringing life to the secondary characters.
The developers clearly knew about the importance of sound in their medium. The charming instrumental soundtrack helps set the tone for the various chapters in the game. I felt that this special care enhanced the medieval theme of the game, and helped give a similar feel to games such as The Witcher, or Dragon Age.
Despite the above average soundtrack, the developers made a precarious decision regarding not utilizing a narrator or voice actors.The premise of Cross of the Dutchman is dark by virtue of Piers historical story, and having a narrator would have added some much-needed tone to diversify the setting. The ending is particularly upsetting (although I am sure everyone who has played the game saw it coming), which if you want to spoil you can go onto Wikipedia. The game stays consistently bleak from the get go and is never alleviated with any sort of comic relief with the exception of Piers stature and mannerisms. This decision might have been due to lack of funds, in which case I would give this a pass, but it is something to note for those buying the game.
In summary, there are definitely a lot of things I would have liked to see done differently with Cross of the Dutchman. The combat could have been deeper, the plot could have been a little more complicated, and I really wish there was more information given about the politics of the time. The main lesson I was longing to learn from throughout the game was why the Saxons were invading, what their goals and ideologies were. One of the great aspects of history is that there is usually multiple stories to be told, and more importantly, perspectives. While there is usually a “good guy” and a “bad guy”, understanding what motivates each group of individuals helps people understand why their struggles/battles are important. I never really understood why Piers story was important, and in fact, I more or less kind of equated him with an anti-hero as he pretty much massacred any perceived bad guy from the get-go, regardless of their reasons.
Despite my issues with some of the developers decisions, Cross of the Dutchman is not a bad game by any means. In fact, it will more than likely entertain you, especially if you enjoy brawler type games. If you can get this game on sale, I would encourage anyone who is interested in picking it up and trying it out. Piers story is an interesting one, and it is definitely worth telling.
- Gameplay: Fast-paced hack-n-slash with fun but sometimes tedious stealth
- Graphics: Quaint and charming
- Sound: Fantastic soundtrack, with unfortunately no voice acting
- Presentation: Well executed medieval setting with a plot that progresses fast but steadily
- Hack-N-Slash mechanics easy to execute and fun to play
- Pier is an entertaining character
- Plot progresses at a good pace
- Soundtrack is above average
- Stealth is tedious
- No voice acting
- Lack of necessary history surrounding what motivates Pier and what caused the conflict