Tales don’t tell themselves.
Cross of the Dutchman, a new game from Triangle Studios, takes the folk story of Pier Donia as its inspiration. Taking place in the 1500s, it recreates elements of this legend and moulds them into a playable and thoroughly enjoyable history lesson.
Cross of the Dutchman is very much driven by the story it tells. It is an adventure game that offers a small and colourful glimpse into a legend of Dutch history, focusing on the exploits of Pier the Great, a man who organised his village into a makeshift rebel army in order to resist the Saxon invasion of Frisia.
Time to Beat: Three hours
Fight the power.
Cross of the Dutchman is essentially an isometric brawler, with colourful visuals and well-drawn cut scenes. The bright, crisp graphics fit the gameplay and story perfectly – Triangle Studios are telling the story of a simple man thrown into extraordinary circumstances who reacts with bravery. Cross of the Dutchman honours Pier Donna’s heroism with a sense of positivity and cheerfulness, as opposed to telling his tale from a darker perspective.
The game’s opening scenes are particularly demonstrative of this approach. When the player first takes control of Pier, he’s engaged in some friendly domestic banter with his wife. The player then has to collect some vegetables to take to the local market in order to trade for fish, so Pier and his family can have an enjoyable supper. While this probably all sounds quite boring when recited in a review, this little episode serves to encapsulate the sense of normality that is quickly disrupted when Pier arrives at the market. It is here that he discovers the Saxons have imposed harsh taxes on merchants, and confiscated goods from traders. Pier’s first task is to retrieve the fish stock from the Saxons and, in turn, his family supper. When he returns home however, his wife worries that his intervention will cause things will spiral out of control.
Of course, things certainly do spiral out of control, as the Saxons continually increase their presence in the countryside, imposing their will on local communities. Initially, like anyone would, Pier simply reacts to the situations that unfold around him and does the best that he can. However, as certain events lead to an escalation in tensions, Pier decides he must take action. Thus begins the guerrilla war against the Saxons and Pier’s rise to legendary folk-hero status.
Initially the combat can be a little repetitive, particularly when dealing with large groups of enemies. An early encounter with numerous Saxons who are attempting to take control of a local mill required me to repeatedly engage enemies using only Pier’s fists, clobber as many as I could, retreat to regenerate health, then dive back in and clobber some more.
Mechanically the combat feels fine – Pier has the ability to throw a normal punch or deal a stronger power blow when his stamina bar is full, which has the added bonus of being able to take out multiple enemies at once. By collecting gold the player can upgrade this power punch. While the melee combat is not tricky to control, in my opinion the player is relegated to using fists for too long before being able to upgrade to a sword. That said, there is a logical narrative reason for this – Pier is a farmer and family man, and there is no reason why he would have a vast array of weapons lying around with which to defend himself from potential invaders.
The game is also exceptionally short, clocking in at around 2-3 hours long. However, I personally do not see this as too much of a draw back. With full controller support and brief chapters, Cross of the Dutchman is essentially an interactive documentary, lasting just a little longer than your average movie.
It’s a wrap.
Due to its subject matter Cross of the Dutchman is ultimately a game that is both ‘niche’ and inherently relatable. Pier Donna is essentially portrayed here as an everyman who defends his village by standing up to oppression. It is the human moments, the little interactions with fellow villagers and the minutiae events, that are cleverly placed at the forefront of this game. Providing a window into these small episodes is what enables Triangle Studios to successfully bring life to such an intimate folk story; it is effective precisely because such tales of individual heroism are often obscured by the context of much grander historical events.
While Cross of the Dutchman doesn’t offer much innovation in terms of gameplay, Triangle Studios still manages to infuse a great deal of originality and heart into their small but feisty game which, while short, is packed with life.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.