Cross of the Dutchman is simultaneously a unique and imaginative experience, but stops itselfs short of the greatness it could’ve had. It’s fun swinging a giant 7 foot sword around while sending enemies flying, but it becomes repetitive due to lack of diversity. The character of ‘Big Pier’ provides a refreshing atmosphere and lore, where like Robin Hood or King Arthur, the story becomes blurred between the myth and reality. Unfortunately, the game also feels like that; a gray space between an exceptionally fun game and a mediocre affair.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Awesome setting and character to base an action game on.
º Great artwork that’s consistent across the span of the game. º Adrenaline pumping moments make you feel like a warrior.
WHAT WE DISLIKED º Incredibly short, and ends on one of the least satisfying moment.
º Combat is overly simple and requires zero strategic thought.
º Lacking the polish this game would need to make it a classic.
Cross of the Dutchman is a perplexing game. It is amazingly ambitious for an indie title, but is on the borderline of being too simplistic. It takes advantage of an amazing legend, but focuses entirely on his days as a farmer. It deals with heavy subject material, but everything come across very light. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it misses so many opportunities for greatness. I’m so on the fence when it comes to this game, because there’s so many positives, but they’re usually underlined with destructive problems.
The story is based on Frisian rebel leader Pier Donia (more commonly known as Grutte Pier, or Big Pier) from Dutch legend, and his fight against the Saxons. There’s a rich backstory during this time period, including a massive civil war amongst Frisians that lasted for over a century. I would speak more on the subject, but I’m not entirely familiar with the history- that and this is a game review. However, I applaud the developers for tackling such a dark subject, and attempting to make that time period come to life. Donia’s story is one of heartache, and ultimately a broken man whose live was ravaged by war. For this, I tip my hat to the developers.
Cutscenes feature stunning hand drawn artwork that narrates the twists and turns of the story, allowing for small breaks in the gameplay. The camera pans around the artwork, particle effects adding weight to the scenes. The artwork fits in nicely with the tone and look of the in-game graphics, and is written like someone narrating the tale to those who’d never heard it. Unfortunately, this narrator is a mute, and presents the story entirely through subtitles. When there’s pages and pages of dialogue, I can understand budget restrains leading to non-vocalized characters. However, these cutscenes would’ve been so much better with a voice actor; heck, it could’ve been done in an afternoon by an intern. Why they didn’t opt for an English dub, I have no idea, but it does hurt the presentation.
The game’s missions vary greatly, from having to recover a fishmonger’s stolen supply from soldiers, to rescuing friends who are about to be executed. The game does a great job of making you feel the resentment, and by the end of the game you’ll really hate the Saxons. When you rescue your fellow citizens, you feel like a champion of the people. The game however ends way too quickly, and honestly in the worst possible spot. Orson Welles once said, “if you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Sadly, the developers never heard that quote, and opted to end the three hour experience with a very depressing conclusion, followed by the promise of adventures as a pirate! I really hope there’s a sequel, because I want to sail the seas and battle across Europe now, instead of ending it right after the first act.
Dialogue is pretty direct when it comes to plotting the revolt, but with some playfulness when it comes to your friends and neighbors. While the conversations are grammatically and tonally sound, several lines are used over and over, with no diversity in the varying characters. This leads to all the secondary characters feeling like duplicates, having the same opinions and word usage. The main characters though are well thought out, with Pier’s nephew Wijerd being introduced in a very memorable way and his wife Rints being a soft, sympathetic character who cares for your children.
The environments are lush, filled with beautiful greens and brown, really emphasizing the natural beauty of the Netherlands. While Cross of the Dutchman’s coloring and layout is fantastic, it does get a tad redundant. Certainly a hard task, when you can’t throw in anything into the design (set in the 16th century, two hundred years before the Industrial Revolution), it would’ve been nice to see a little more diversity in the maps. You get turned around a little too easily, because everything starts to look the same after a while, and when you’re backtracking over the same old ground, it gets tedious.
Technically, the game is pretty sound for an indie game, beside a few ragdoll hiccups. Frame rate can drop pretty low when there’s a ton of enemies on the screen. When it isn’t strobing out, the game has moments of pure mayhem, where you feel like you’re in a moment from Braveheart. It’s absolutely pure excitement when you’re swinging that seven foot sword, laying into an insurmountable number of warriors on screen and sending them flying. When you run into a skirmish with your brothers-in-arms behind you, you’ll get goosebumps as you clash with the enemy. These feverish moments are but a brief glimpse however, as the game’s action rarely jumps into being that chaotic very often.
The rest of the experience you’re battling waves of six or so enemies at a time. With such a divisive conflict, more large scale battles would’ve been greatly appreciated. More heartbreaking than any of that though, the controls really just stems down to a button masher with a periodic special attack. You just keep swinging, until your stamina bar fills up, and then you release your huge strike, followed by another five seconds of mashing. After a while, you’ll really be hoping for more. Besides a few awesome moments, like when Big Pier picks up a plow from his farm and starts laying into soldiers, there’s really not much outside of the repetitive nature of the game’s controls.
Speaking of controls, using a mouse is awful. You move around by clicking or holding the mouse on a distant location- and in order to attack, you must stop and click on the object. I shouldn’t have to explain why that doesn’t feel comfortable. This isn’t so bad, until you’re trying to fight a horde of bad guys, and the camera constantly adjusts and moves you off your target, sending you running around them instead of landing blows. Do yourself a favor, and pop in a controller- you’ll be thanking me, and the game will become more enjoyable.
There’s also a regenerating damage meter, which allows you to plow through your enemies with ease; too much ease. You’ll rarely die, and if you’re ever close, you can simply run away from the battle, and hang out like Duke Nukem until you’re ready to pick off the last of the crowd. This could’ve been avoided, simply by including potions, or spells- something to add in some gameplay variety and resource management. If they were going for realism, and wanted to avoid fantastical cure-alls, fine; but that doesn’t explain spending twenty seconds alone to heal your legendary hero.
The soundtrack is a nice assortment of classically inspired music, complete with tracks that sound like they came from Lord of the Rings. While these tracks work fine in a standard fantasy game, they don’t quite provide the feel of the Netherlands. Sound effects are also on the mark, but again, there’s nothing that really stands out and suggests that all of this didn’t just come from some sound catalogue.
There’s just so much passion about this amazing warrior, but everything else just feels a tad phoned in. There’s really no reason to return to it after you’ve ran through the short campaign, and once you have, you’ll feel like you’ve played a demo rather than the full game. I know I filled this review with a lot of complaints, but it’s simply because I did enjoy this game- but I kept questioning the developer’s decisions throughout, wondering how something so imaginative and outside of the box could feel so rooted in the standard slog that top-down action games get themselves into. Fight back Triangle Studios, because this game shows promise- but this isn’t your champion.