Developed by Triangle Studios. Published by Triangle Studios. Available on PC and Mac. Review code provided by publisher.
I'm a sucker for stories like Taken, in which Liam Neeson uses his "particular set of skills" to hunt down - and in most cases, brutally slaughter - the people responsible for his missing daughter. Cross of the Dutchman is a similar story, and shows that, while these movies are absolutely cliche these days, the story archetype has been cliche for centuries, but people still seem to flock to them. Pier Donia was a farmer in Frisia, a region in today's Netherlands, when the Saxons decided to show up in force. He takes a stand against the oppressive military presence, and rallies the townsfolk to his cause; the beginnings of a rebellion.
Cross of the Dutchman is something akin to a Diablo-style interactive Braveheart, which, now that I say it out loud, sounds pretty incredible. To be sure, it's more hack-and-slash brawler than RPG, but, to be fair, so is Diablo. CotD is cartoony, and it's got a childish aesthetic to it, but the story it tells is anything but. From the outset, you are fighting against impossible odds, as the occupying soldiers ransack towns, form blockades, slaughter townsfolk, and do generally mean things to more or less everybody you know and love. Fortunately, Pier is renowned for his gargantuan stature, with legends putting him at seven feet tall and as "strong as an ox."
It plays like Diablo, with click-to-move and click-to-attack being your primary interface. Right clicking performs a special move. That's basically all there is to it. CotD doesn't have a deep skill progression system, although there are skill unlocks you can buy, like the spinning sword attack that can take down eight or more enemies in a single shot. A fun note: according to the wiki linked above, Pier was so strong, and his sword so big, that he could, as legend has it, "behead multiple people with it in a single blow."
Dutchman is a simple game about simple folk in a simple time. The closest thing to a progression system is the skills mentioned above and the health/stamina upgrades. Pier wasn't a wizard or master swordsman. He was a gigantic farmer with an absurdly large sword. His move list in life was likely just as short as the move list in CotD, and I like it that way. Likewise, the enemies are relatively true to life. You won't have to worry about taking out the healer first, or dodging arcane spells. You'll hack away at tiers of melee soldiers with increasing health, and tiers of archers with increasing health. It turns out the Saxon army didn't have a great party balance by today's RPG standards.
Cross of the Dutchman is an incredible "live the legend" experience, even though most of us have never heard of the legend. Even without a pervasive cultural backdrop, you'll still feel heroic as you cleave through scores of the occupying soldiers in order to close the gap with a pesky archer, who you immediate behead in a single great sweeping strike. There's a sense of loyalty to the family, the farm, the town, and the villagers. It's one of those games that can actually make you feel good about yourself and your actions. That is, unless you're losing.
There's one relatively serious concern with Dutchman, which is the occasional difficulty spikes. It's not a common issue, but you may well find yourself replaying an encounter over and over again, until you get lucky enough to win. In one situation Pier and friends were assaulting a camp, which, once cleared, spawned another small army of enemies. Clearing one was hard enough, but the second wave was twice the size of the first, and it seemed almost impossible until a stroke of luck (and a bit of kiting) pushed past the roadblock.
Cross of the Dutchman puts you in the driver's seat of a centuries-old folk legend, and it does it with aplomb. You'll come to resent the occupying soldiers so much that you'll regret every time you have to sneak past a Saxon patrol, rather than just taking them head on. It's a beat-em-up at its core, but you'll likely be invested enough in your role as Pier that you'll think of it as an RPG when you walk away. At least I did.
Bottom Line: The cartoony appearance might throw you off, but there's no shortage of violence in this retelling of a folk legend's homegrown rebellion.
Recommendation: Cross of the Dutchman is a hack-and-slash brawler with a not-so-feel-good message. If you've got even a passing interest in the folk culture of middle ages Europe, this is a good place to start for a few-hours-long lesson. There's not much depth to the mechanics, but it seems to want to tell a story more than anything, and that is accomplished bar none.