by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
BACK TO MEDIEVAL EUROPE
As an Englishman, when my boss (who is from The Netherlands) sent me a game about a Frisian man slaughtering endless hordes of Saxon soldiers, I became a little worried. Hoping this wasn’t a warning of things to come, I set about playing Cross of the Dutchman, an action game from indie developer Triangle Studios. It follows the story of a real man named Pier Gerlofs Donia, who is remembered in legend as a man of huge size and strength.
The game stays true to the folk legend, chronicling Pier’s leading of a rebellion against Saxon soldiers around the turn of the 16th century in Frisia. It’s not a particularly cheerful tale, but it’s one that lends itself to plenty of action. It starts off slow, detailing life on Pier’s family farm with his wife and two children, but tensions with the Saxons soon come to a head.
Combat in Cross of the Dutchman is rather simple. For the first half of the game you’re fighting with your fists, tapping the attack button and vaguely aiming towards enemies. There’s no lock on, so you’ll often be swinging at nothing in particular, and your attacks have a pretty big windup. Thankfully enemy soldiers don’t take advantage of your lack of speed. They won’t try and dodge out of the way, and they too seem to spend a lot of time either waiting around looking at you, or swinging at nothing.
Because of this, the game isn’t hard. Difficulty is ramped up by simply throwing more and more enemies at you in the later stages of the game, but even then the same tactics can be employed. After a very brief period of not being hit, your health will regenerate quite quickly. So, if you’re in a pickle, you can just run away for a bit, and your enemies will trail after you in a nice bunch, unable to catch up. When you’ve healed up, you can go back to swinging at them. Eventually you’ll unlock a sword, which is slightly more potent at beating up bad guys, but doesn’t really change the way you go about things. You can switch between sword and fists, but I never found a reason to go back to using my knuckles.
You also have a special attack, which generally just equates to you doing more damage in a larger area of effect. You unlock new attacks, along with health and stamina upgrades, by spending money at the shops dotted around the area. You gain money off fallen enemies, and by smashing up boxes and looting treasure chests. It’s a bit odd that Pier would go around breaking people’s stuff and stealing their money when he’s trying to protect them, but he was supposedly a pirate too, so I guess it makes sense.
IT'S A SMALL WORLD
The world itself is broken up into smaller areas that connect together. It’s a very scaled down version of the province of Frisia, and because there are only a handful of different areas, you do a lot of backtracking across well trodden ground. Sometimes it felt like I was being made to go home and check my wife was okay just to extend the story a bit. Even with backtracking, it’s a short game, clocking in at around two hours. However it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
In fact, despite its simplicity, it’s a fairly enjoyable little game. The animation and graphics look like they come out of the mid 00s, there’s no voice acting, and the story is told through simple comic book style cutscenes, but it’s charming all the way through. The only offensive part of the game came in a couple of stealth sections that appeared jammed in for no reason.
Despite the fact that you’re fighting off literally dozens of soldiers at a time at various points in the game, if you get spotted by one measly enemy during a stealth section, it’s game over. You don’t even get a chance to fight off any reinforcements he might call, or stop him before he manages to sound the alarm, or run away and hide, Pier just gives up. In these sections, soldiers have a vision cone, but it’s never indicated how big it is, and the enemies also appear oblivious to the noise a two plus metre tall man with a sword on his back must be making as he sneaks right behind them.
Cross of the Dutchman is fairly average in most respects, but that’s not to say you can’t have a good time while playing. The developers have put some thought into how to translate the story of Pier into a game, and it works quite well. There are some frustrations, it’ll be over quickly, and there’s not a great deal of replay value, but you could do worse for the money you’ll spend on it.
The game runs and controls nicely, tells a story you may not have heard before.
Awful stealth sections, combat too simplistic.