Cross of the Dutchman Review
Maybe I'm just spoiled. Maybe that's it. I've been going over and over in my head exactly what it is about Cross of the Dutchman that makes it so unsatisfying to play. It's not a bad game. It's definitely not like Chariot Wars or The Weaponographist, where I was able to pinpoint (violently) what I disliked about it. I don't dislike anything about Cross of the Dutchman, it's a perfectly okay small game about a folk hero and his attempt to drive the Saxons from his homelands. Violently. With his fists. The art style is pretty terrific, the controls aren't too bad, and it's a nice little hack-and-slasher.
But the game just falls a little short. Maybe not in what it is...it's a hack-and-slash actioner and that's really all I expected from it after a few minutes of play. But definitely in what it could be. I just felt like after playing it, I hadn't experienced anything that I would really take time out of my day otherwise to do. And I suppose that's the real issue.
Cross of the Dutchman retells the story of Big Pier, or Pier Gerlofs Donia. A big man, fed up with what the occupying Saxons were doing to his people and his lands, Pier Donia decided to take the fight to them. First by beating the everloving crap out of every Saxon he could find, and then by rounding up a band of vigilantes and making targeted strikes on the Saxon forces, stealing supplies, and the like. The player takes the role of Pier, who starts out just trying to get through his day in the village. At first, the player only has a pair of fists and some basic moves, but as the story progresses, they gain companions, a sword, and even a plow at one point as they drive the hordes of vile Saxons from their land. The game alternates between regular hack-and-slash gameplay and stealth sections as you sneak around Saxons during night raids and hold your own against onslaught after onslaught of enemies.
But here's where it breaks down a little. There's not much to do other than that. There's also not much in the way of tactics or anything other than "Run around, avoid getting hit, power up attack, release attack, repeat." The stealth sections contain moments where, if you go too far off the rails, the game penalizes you by having you caught by people who don't even appear onscreen. In fact, the game as a whole is pretty railsy, which is normally all right (not every game has to be an open-world extravaganza), but chafes when one of the things the game has you do is explore the wide-open levels looking for treasure chests, shortcuts, and alternate routes.
What you can do within those rules isn't really all that great, either. Pacing and progress in the game are slow. It makes sense for the narrative to have Pier not immediately get a sword and go to town on everyone, but spending that much time using his fists before getting the option of a sword just doesn't make that much sense game design-wise. The longer you keep players from progress, the more the players get frustrated with the game. In telling the story of how the legend becomes who he is, the fundamental satisfaction of being the legend is actually lost. Also, the aforementioned rails kind of left me feeling confined.
All of this is a shame, because the game has some great points, too. The cutscenes are all illustrations, as if they came out of a rather cartoony stained glass window or illuminated manuscript, what voice acting there is isn't terrible, and the two-second sequence where I got to mow down people with a plow was good.
But for every decent sequence, there are six or seven problems with it. Combat doesn't flow, even with the sword. Sometimes you'll be able to hold down the mouse button and cleave through your enemies, sometimes you'll be unable to do anything of the kind, and Pier will stand there and get beat on. Most of the basic moves in combat are irrelevant anyway, as you will find yourself relying more and more on the obscene and unbalanced one-hit kill move that, conveniently enough, also works as an AOE and recharges with relative quickness. This turns the battles into a pattern of running around the map to recharge the super, taking out a cloud of Saxons, and then running around the map to recharge again.
The tutorial sequences delving into parody doesn't exactly help either. It worked in Fairy Fencer F because it was just that kind of game. But Cross of the Dutchman is very much not that kind of game, and so when Pier's wife constantly talks about minimaps and the like, it just rings hollow.
In the end, I wouldn't recommend Cross of the Dutchman. It's not a great game, and what is there isn't enough to keep me interested. If I hadn't gotten this review copy, I wouldn't be giving it a second look, and I'm not sure anyone should.
Full disclosure: Reviewer received a free review copy of this game on Steam