Cross of the Dutchman on PC
Games taking inspiration from the history books is nothing new, but telling some of the lesser known stories from the past certainly isn’t as common. Cross of the Dutchman hit Steam last week and did exactly this, telling the story of Piere Gerlofs Dania, a lowly farmer as he raised a resistance movement against the Saxon invasion in Medieval Western Europe. And while Cross of the Dutchman should definitely be commended for telling this story in what was mostly an enjoyable experience, it didn’t quite manage to land the finishing blow.
As previously mentioned, the game puts you in control of Piere Gerlofs Dania from an isometric point of view. While the game won’t be winning any awards for how pretty it looks, the cutscenes were enjoyable enough to watch and the general gameplay visuals certainly lent a charm to Piere’s world. Piere’s story is almost forced on him, with Saxon’s causing problems in his local towns and villages, and so you’ll be tasked with taking down wave after wave of Saxon soldiers, regardless of whether Piere really wants to.
This may sound like it would get incredibly repetitive, and for the most part it does. Mashing two buttons to alter between a light and special attack is the full extent of the combat mechanics. Throw in a couple upgrades for the special attack and you’re just about done covering the combat. Unfortunately, it’s not like the combat comes pain free, either. Offering no ability to dodge or lock on to enemies, it became just too clumsy to be truly enjoyable when tasked with taking down large groups of foes. Considering the gameplay focuses on combat, not having the ability to lock onto an enemy can be frustrating and can lead to unfair deaths.
It must be noted, however, that when attempting to tell a story from history that primarily focuses on the uprising of farmers and other like-minded folk against Saxon forces, you don’t have much potential for gameplay variation. Still, Cross of the Dutchman definitely felt like it needed something to keep it fresh, other than its slightly wonky stealth missions.
These stealth missions seemed to have a rather hit or miss situation going on with its detection system, too. On one chapter of the nine that the game is split into, I found myself wandering past enemies when I thought I was in clear sight of the patrolling guards. Other times, they’d pick me out in a similar, if not safer, position. Combining this questionable detection system with the infuriating checkpoints means that these stealth sections of the gameplay, that should have been an enjoyable deviation away from the standard brawling, were even less fun. Repeating a large amount of what you’d covered, only to be caught by the guards and having to do it over again became tiresome.
It may sound like I didn’t enjoy my experience with Cross of the Dutchman, and that simply wasn’t the case. Triangle Studios brought this unique historical setting to life, and they’ve clearly got a passion for obscure history. Triangle portrayed Medieval Europe correctly, right down to the various buildings, armor, and clothing, and that should be praised. Combining this with some truly great scores on the soundtrack during the final chapters really helped set the scene for the game and added to the aforementioned charm.
While Piere’s story was told fully through cutscenes and character dialogue, Cross of the Dutchman seemed to be begging for some sort of informative collectibles, just like in Valiant Hearts. Ubisoft had nailed giving more details on the setting and the history that the game had focused on with its collectibles littered throughout the world, and in comparison, Cross of the Dutchman’s world felt incredibly bare. Even the characters’ within the game seemed there to only help progress the story.
Cross of the Dutchman certainly provided me with an insightful, although short experience over its three hours. And for those fans of history out there, it’s definitely worth playing through to enjoy the unique historical setting never before explored in video game settings. However, don’t expect to be wowed by fantastic visuals, intuitive combat, or a great variation in gameplay. You’ll hack, slash, and occasionally sneak your way through Saxons, and that’s about it. Had Triangle Studios only spent a bit longer refining the combat system and laying down some informative collectibles within the game’s world, they could have created a true hero in the battlefield of historical games.