Cross of the Dutchman PC Developed by Triangle Studios Released in 2015
Now isn’t this an interesting little gem for indie month? If you happen to visit us more often, then you may have caught onto the fact that I am Dutchman. There aren’t a whole lot of games that really take place in my country or even treat it as significant at all, with the only exceptions I can think of being Medal of Honor: Frontline and Brothers in Arms. I have had an eye on Cross of the Dutchman ever since its original kickstarter campaign, which regrettably failed to reach its funding goal. It’s a shame that, though the final game did eventually release, you can kind of notice it missed out on some much-needed funding.
Like that song from Heidevolk
In Cross of the Dutchman you take control of Pier Donia, a simple farmer living in Frisia near the cities of Arum and Kimswerd. After a hard day of working the land his wife sends him to fetch some food from the market, but Pier is accosted by soldiers from Saxony that have occupied the region. Though he just wishes to be left alone, the conflict soon escalates and Pier, being a big, bulky guy, is pushed into the role of rebel leader.
As Pier you journey between the two villages and your home farm to raise a rebellion through a series of small quests and battles. The events of the game somewhat follow a toned down version of the actual, historic events, with the names of characters matching those of real people and the overall conflict did actually happen, though it was significantly larger in scale.
As cool as it is to see a game focus on the hero of a conflict so few people know about, the storytelling here isn’t that interesting. You don’t really feel like you are experiencing the rebellion because all you do is go up and down between villages where you recruit some people one at a time, rather than the dozens or hundreds you’d expect from a revolt. While a few events do feel big, there is a little too much space during which the game cools down, and because enemies don’t respawn there are huge stretches of time where Frisia looks pretty much liberated already.
At least serious effort has been put into Pier himself, with a few scenes where you literally just do some farmer stuff or interact with his wife and children. He also travels around with his nephew and has constant dialogue with him in which they banter about random topics. It takes this larger-than-life folk hero and shows in what ways he was really just an ordinary guy that worries about the health of his family while on his campaign.
Story score: 6/10
The game is presented as an isometric action-RPG in which you do basically everything with just the mouse. Clicking on the floor will make Pier walk there and clicking on enemies will generally motivate Pier to punch them. The controls are unresponsive, often forcing me to click multiple times to make Pier move or strike, and during a fight you need to hold down shift or else Pier will constantly walk off instead of attacking. A more reliable way to deal with foes is the right mouse-button, which will make Pier unleash a special move if his green energy bar is sufficiently filled.
You travel around 16th century Frisia, beat up some Saxons, and talk with friendly non-player characters. It’s all pretty simple and that’s precisely the issue; this game feels tiny. It has six small maps, all of them use the exact same basic design and scenery, there are no random enemies to fight, and there is not a single side-quest in the game. The main quest blows through those six areas in about an hour, after which it starts recycling like crazy and padding itself out for a few more chapters, though the finale is suitably exciting even if it tanks the framerate a little too much.
Combat is entirely uninteresting because Pier only has two moves: whatever special you got equipped and the punches you throw while your special is recharging. The enemies are ineffective, with late-game foes just having more health than their early-game counterparts, and the games throws them at you in huge, pointless waves that go down fast. This does make it satisfying to cut through hordes of soldiers, but that satisfaction is hollow. The game isn’t fun to explore and the enemies aren’t fun to fight, so what does that leave Cross of the Dutchman with?
Stealth. Though you play as a giant of a man wielding a two-handed sword, the game often insists you employ stealth, preferably while on a timer. These segments are beyond frustrating, especially later down the line when you can lose a whole five minutes each time one enemy spots you. And you know what makes this even worse? There is no point to any of it! With the exception of the very first stealth part where a woman is held captive, there is no reason anywhere else not to just beat people up. In fact, each stealth segment ends with Pier breaking stealth and going for a brawl anyway, making the whole, tedious job of finishing it pointless.
I can’t help but sigh. The ambition behind Cross of the Dutchman is obvious, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to realizing it. The game is just short and uninteresting to play, with infuriating stealth segments and a low framerate to boot.
Gameplay score: 3/10
Frisia is kind of samey, isn’t it?
With only six areas in the game and all of them using the same buildings, objects, and rural village look, it’s fair to say that there is a distinct lack of variety here. If you zone out for a bit it’s easy to forget whether you are in Kimswerd, Arum, or the crossroads, because none of these areas have something to really set them apart. For what it’s worth the textures and objects do look pretty nice, and you get some nice shots of mills and the sea.
The character models are janky and rough, however, which goes for both main characters like Pier and the random peasants that wander around. They animate stiffly, even on the highest graphical settings available, and are just not pleasant to look at.
The cutscenes make up for a lot of this though. These scenes are presented with still images overlaid with text, but the art is so nice that you really wish the whole game was like that without any sub-par gameplay interrupting it. As an interactive graphic novel or a storybook this would have been an awesome way to learn about history, and the main reason for why I kept persevering through stealth segments and mediocre combat is to see what the next cutscene would be like.
Presentation score: 5/10
Pillage the land!
When the Saxons rob Frisia’s people blind, the only solution is to go out there and steal whatever valuables still remain! To that end, there are treasure chests hidden across the game’s areas that provide you a healthy boost of coin. This you can exchange at merchants to upgrade your health and energy or learn new combat abilities. While a neat extra and I certainly went out of my way to find it all, it doesn’t take long to buy whatever you want and then it’s just worthless coin sitting in your pocket.
You can also trace down all the game’s points of interest, which will make Pier comment on them. These are only worth it if you want to learn more about Pier through his reactions to the world around him, but it’s sparse and not always worth it.
Extras score: 6/10
I am not going easy on a game because it offers me the rare pleasure of playing something set in my country. Cross of the Dutchman needed more work and for more work it presumably needed more funding. With a more refined and diverse combat system, more areas to visit, and better character models I think this could have been a fantastic experience that teaches people about an obscure bit of history. As it stands, it’s really only worth getting if you like The Netherlands.