The Legend of Grutte Pier Gerlofs Donia
Little known developer Triangle Studios has produced a variety of independent games such as Battleflip and Robot Dance Party. Most recently, the team opted to explore the legend of Pier Gerlofs Donia, based on the historical events of conflict between the Saxons and Frisians from the late 1400’s to early 1500’s. While the lore behind the title proves to be an interesting premise, the game’s positives are frequently outweighed by the unfortunate and inconsistent gameplay design.
Cross of the Dutchman explores the early life of the Frisian rebel up until his emergence as a leader in combat. While known as Grutte Pier (Great Pier) for his noticeable bulk and overwhelming power, he resides to a simple life of farming with his wife and two children. However, once the looming threat of the unwelcome Saxons becomes realized, Pier and his fellow villagers are given no choice but to take up arms to protect their families and homeland. The story is a simple one that sees Pier make new friends and protect his allies through the nine chapter tale. Pieces of dialogue are exchanged through player interaction, but important segments are displayed through nicely illustrated cutscenes.
The game is only controlled via mouse, modelling itself after similar games such as Diablo or Torchlight. However, it simplifies itself even more excluding any special skill mapping to other keys. You can virtually play the entire game by holding the left mouse button down nonstop. Pier will move to where you want him to by dragging your cursor to that location, as well as move faster or slower depending on the cursor’s distance from his avatar. A sword icon will appear over glowing red enemies to indicate the option to attack.
Similarly, breakable objects such as chests and barrels will be destroyed the same way, often revealing gold caches. Pier also learns special attacks that drain a specific amount of stamina. Players will receive one move for free, but others must be purchased from an NPC. These moves vary in damage, range, and stamina requirements, and can also be purchased for Pier’s sword which is acquired in later chapters. Pier’s health and stamina can be increased by purchasing the two upgrades available for each from a vendor.
While the point-and-click model is certainly viable when executed properly, Cross of the Dutchman is not a good example of it. This is extremely unfortunate as there are only two buttons to press throughout the entire experience and no way around the inconsistent feel and response. The experience isn’t so bad until the player finds themselves facing a large group of enemies. While you may think of a strategy to utilize in taking down your foes, the mouse controls will often cause Pier to awkwardly move in directions you aren’t intending, or even stay inexplicably still. Logically, you may move forward to initiate a special attack and take down several soldiers. All too often following this, however, I found myself a sitting duck as Pier would not respond to the movement control I was inputting.
The experience becomes even more upsetting as when the player dies, he or she is forced to redo the entire area they just played through. It feels as though you are punished for mechanics beyond your control. It was especially frustrating during the games sporadic stealth sequences. While these moments are fairly easy to navigate through, you may find yourself falling victim to unresponsive controls, or getting Pier caught on invisible edges or walls.
This is essentially what Cross of the Dutchman boils down to. Each chapter features some exposition, followed by running to the next NPC character, a potential stealth sequence, and a final battle, all with periodic fighting sprinkled in between. While the game certainly isn’t terrible, it lacks any real substance by removing things like fun abilities or loot that other titles in this genre have. It just felt like a rinse and repeat process that eventually brought me to my destination. What makes it unfortunate is the constant frustration experienced by the controls on top of it all.
A beam of joy comes through all this in the form of the game’s pleasing soundtrack. Each piece seemed to fit the increasingly tense mood of the game’s events, culminating in some triumphant tunes that echo through the final chapters. The characters communicate via text bubble, opting not to use voice-over work. However, this is welcome as the soundtrack typically supersedes the weight of what is being said.
The game also runs on the short side. It took me about two hours to complete my playthrough. I attempted to find options to run of course and find anything hidden side material, but was met with a barricade at every turn. This is a game that intends to walk you through a linear history lesson. In this regard, the length is appropriate as the experience lacks any deep gameplay or customization that would otherwise make it worthwhile. That being said, the game seems to end in a very bizarre place, opting to give us an expository cutscene of what happens next. It certainly seems like there is room for a sequel to explore the legendary character.
Cross of the Dutchman is certainly an interesting idea. Stories based on historical figures, particularly man-made legends are always fascinating areas to explore in the realm of gaming. However, the experience is plagued by overly simplistic controls and a lack of flair that makes everything feel plain and uninteresting. The frustration caused by their inconsistency often overshadows the redeeming qualities that the game does have, such as score and writing. It leaves one asking if this needed to be a game rather than a short animated movie.