I may not look it, but I’m a red-blooded American man through and through. I like beer, burgers and fighting mythological creatures with traps and lumberjack related skill sets. That’s why when I first saw Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves on Steam Greenlight, I showed extreme excitement with both my facial expressions and my private areas. After spending a good chunk of time with Sang-Froid, I’m quite pleased with it but it’s definitely a title that caters to a pretty specific audience.
Sang-Froid takes place in and around the Canadian town of Wolvesvale during the late 1800’s. The town’s church is burnt down during a struggle that occurs between Josephine O’Carrol and a priest after she denies his sexual advances. Despite supposedly being a messenger of God, he opts to blame the fire on Josephine and accuse her of being a witch. This forces her to escape the wrathful townsfolk and seek shelter in the cabin of her brother. Seeing that corruption is afoot, the Devil shows up to summon the forces of evil in order to kidnap Josephine. You play as one of the two O’Carroll brothers as they attempt to prevent Josephine’s capture by fighting the supernatural forces that arrive at their cabin every evening.
The story is intriguing, though the voice acting and minimalist cut scenes border on pure cheese. I don’t want to be too nitpicky about these things. Sang-Froid is gameplay first, everything else second, but it does take a good sense of humor to get through the delivery of the character’s lines. That being said, the soundtrack is great and really sets the mood wonderfully.
The plan is mightier than the sword
Sang-Froid is the type of game where a solid plan is far more important than lighting fast reflexes. While you do directly control your character at night when monsters actually raid your land, it’s the preparation during the day that is the difference between success and failure. There’s a lot to take into consideration when planning your defenses, as Sang-Froid introduces a number of factors that will influence your strategy from night to night.
The most important step of the planning process is knowing what sort of monsters are attacking, their weaknesses, where they’re attacking from, and which of your buildings they’re actually going after. This is accomplished through the the omens that your sister sees, so you know exactly what you’re facing when going into battle. Regardless of this apparent advantage, there’s still quite a bit stacked against you.
At first only a few creature types appear and with only a few buildings to protect, it’s pretty easy to plan your strategy. As the game progresses, different monsters, ranging from werewolves to will-o’-the-wisps show up and can attack any of the five buildings you’re tasked with defending. This can seem overwhelming at first, especially when you realize that some weapons and traps don’t even hurt certain creature types, which is why paying attention to the omens is extremely important.
Armed to the teeth
Sang-Froid gives you quite the toolbox to work with. Your character is armed with a gun (a single shot weapon that has to be reloaded in between uses) and your trusty axe, and you can purchase new versions of each weapon from town throughout the course of the game. The axe can be blessed or coated with silver, and the gun can shoot regular, silver and holy bullets, thus becoming more effective against certain types of enemies. There are also a number of other items you can purchase from the towns in the game, such as healing potions (in the form of booze), clothing and trinkets that imbue you with certain stat increases.
There’s also a basic leveling system at play, which allows you to put points into certain skill trees. For the most part, these skills affect either your character or your defenses. For example, I focused on improving my wolf traps and my bait (which attracts monsters and forces them to stop and eat), so I eventually had traps that held enemies longer and bait that caused poison damage. You can also improve your stamina, your ability to use rage (which allows you to perform power attacks) and a number of other things. It is here that you’ll begin to build the foundation of how you’ll approach each level, though don’t expect to be anything but a Jack-of-all-trades.
Sang-Froid is not an action game and I learned pretty quickly that victory could only be achieved by having an eclectic set of items at your disposal, the most important being the traps. There’s nothing worse than trying to reload a rifle with a werewolf bearing down on you and because you’re being attacked from all different directions, it’s impossible to be everywhere at once.
The traps are all laid out before a mission and either cost money or action points (you earn money throughout and you get a certain number of action points each level). As mentioned above, the traps you will use will depend on what you’re facing as some monsters aren’t affected by certain traps. For instance, wolf traps work really well on wolf type enemies, but everything else will walk right through them. While some traps work on their own, some have to be manually activated or shot with your rifle in order to work. This means that you can’t take a tower defense approach to the game and just sit back while you watch your machines do the work for you. As you perfect their uses, you’ll start getting comfortable with how to set up your battlefield but things do get very hectic in later stages of the game.
Once everything is set up, it’s time for the game to actually begin. The actual gameplay is pretty frantic while you run from place to place, activating traps and finishing off foes with your gun or your axe. When all goes according to plan, it’s very satisfying as you hear the distant welps from monsters getting butts full of sharp and pointies. Timing is key however, as you’ll need to be very efficient, especially in regards to the traps and devices that need your actual interaction. One wrong move and enemies may miss your defenses entirely, putting you in a position where you have to go toe to toe with them, which is probably the weakest part of the game, though not so bad that it’s a game breaker. It just never feels quite fluid, which might actually be the result of design choices as opposed to a lack of polish, considering you’re controlling two mountain men and not ninjas or vikings.
I was a bit nervous that Sang-Froid would have quite a bit of trial and error as well as the frustrating scenarios where I would have to take a bunch of time to plan a level, spend more time actually playing the level and be forced to start over because one thing went wrong. Artifice Studios prevents this from happening in a number of different ways. First, the levels themselves go quite fast so if you do fail you won’t be wasting a bunch of time doing so. If you do happen to lose a level, you can start at either the beginning of the day (before you set everything up/or purchased items from town) or at dusk (everything is still set up/purchased but you can make minor tweaks). This made a huge differences for me and really cut down on the anxiety that comes with overseeing your land’s protection needs.
Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves is a very enjoyable game, but I can’t stress enough that I’m probably the exact demographic they were going for, as I love strategic defense situations and I can look past the lack of polish of most indie games. At $14.99, it’s relatively expensive compared to some other indie titles, but there’s more than enough value in the package. This is not a tower defense game and it’s not Orcs Must Die. It’s a different beast all together, one that requires a thoughtful approach to preparation and an anally retentive approach to seeing that preparation through. If you think you may need to protect yourselves from monster attacks in the Canadian wilderness, Sang-Froid may be the game for you.
Reflex Review – Like a memorable meal, some games make a big enough impression that you’ve got to tell other people about them before they’re fully digested.