Developed by Artifice Studios, Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves combines several different genres in a way that yields an enjoyable gameplay experience. The game pits you against waves of werewolves and other supernatural beings as you defend important structures around your land. It uses the strategy genre as a direct catalyst to the action part of the game while sprinkling in some RPG elements of acquiring new weapons and skills.
The gameplay can be divided into two phases: top-down strategy vaguely similar to the tower-defense genre and 3rd person combat. The strategy phase takes place at the beginning of each round on a top-down map. Each path can be clearly seen on this map as well as the routes each enemy will take. You can choose from a variety of different traps to set up in areas of strategic value. However, all traps require AP (Action Points) and you are only given a certain amount of AP at the beginning of each level so figuring out which traps to place where and for which enemy becomes the main objective of the strategy phase.
There are a total of 12 traps that can be unlocked throughout the game and all of them greatly vary in purpose. The traps are usually best used in an area that corresponds to its purpose. Hanging nets, for example, have quite a small AoE so placing it in a narrow passage greatly increases the chances of enemies to converge underneath. Other non-offensive traps are also available that help in formulating a working strategy. There’s the Fire Wall which blocks enemy paths prompting them to reroute and there’s also Bait which can either delay several enemies or used as actual bait to lure enemies into Spike Traps.
What’s great with Sang-Froid is that it accommodates a number of different strategies. There is not one way to win a level; it requires a combination of efficient trap placement, a firm grasp of the 3rd person combat and of course, time management.
What I found the biggest challenge was in Sang-Froid was not how well traps are placed but how well you have to manage time between fights. Enemy spawns are often sporadic; wave one might comprise of a pack of wolves in the south and one major enemy way on the other side of the map spawning at the same time. Most of the more powerful traps require the player to be present to trigger them. The Hanging Net mentioned above, for example, requires the player to shoot it down in order for the boulders to deal damage to enemies directly below. The enemies are incredibly strong but can technically be beaten with some good dodging skills. However, taking up too much time cheese dodging strong enemies isn’t very efficient especially when one of your structures on the other side of the map is taking damage.
The 3rd person action phase, on the other hand, feels somewhat weak. Sang-Froid incorporates some wolf behaviour in real life into the combat mechanics like pack mentality and intimidation (fear factor). Every unit, including your character, has a fear factor. Things like fire and damage dealt heightens your character’s fear factor making enemies less aggressive towards you. Despite how deep they made it seem to look like in the tutorial, it is quite far from that. The fear factor really only applies to minor enemies like normal wolves which don’t really pose much threat. Stronger enemies tend to have a high initial fear factor making confrontation problematic. Also, even if you did try to create a combat strategy based on fear factor, there simply isn’t enough time. It’s better to just invest in upgrading stamina and stronger weapons.
The whole game takes place on the same map which is great because over time, you are more familiarized with the map making trap placement more efficient. However, Sang-Froid also includes small details that heavily impact the outcome of the game and also keep the map from feeling stale like wind direction carrying your scent and ice bridges that melt over.
Weapon improvement and skill speccing is where the RPG aspect of Sang-Froid plays in. Each enemy kill yields money which can be spent on purchasing better weapons and armor. Experience points can also be earned and spent on the character skill tree. Much like the versatility of the strategy phase, the skill tree has a diverse set of options that can cater to your playstyle. You can either spend XP improving your combat skills or improve traps.
While the gameplay only has minor issues with the combat, what really disappointed me is the visuals and plot. Set in icy backwoods of 19th century Canada in the town of…Wolvesvale, Sang-Froid is heavily imbued with Canadian superstition featuring various types of werewolves, demonic possession and even the devil himself. Christian mythology isn’t often seen as a central theme in videogames most probably because it’s a touchy subject. However, Sang-Froid gets away with it mostly because of its emphasis on the old-world way of thinking. The story itself consists of almost Western fable-like plot devices like a vulnerable woman possessed by demons and the devil tempting a parish priest. That combined with some Christian repulsion of Native American “pagan” beliefs consisting of other mythical beings like Windigos and the mystical power of the forces of nature.
Though the plot sounds a lot like an American Bram Stoker novel, its delivery falls a bit short of an entertaining experience. The short cut scenes conveying the story almost feels like a cheap puppet show. The voice acting is sub-par and sounds like the actors are reading cue cards from an overly dramatic play.
Though the art style does have some aesthetically pleasing qualities, the actual game’s visuals are quite disappointing – namely, the way the creatures are designed. Aside from wolves and minor werewolves, which don’t exhibit any special features at all, the other creatures look crudely designed which is such a shame because Sang-Froid‘s plot already has the potential of being accompanied by an effective old-world horror atmosphere. Due to the bad design decisions, the horror that comes with fighting in a dark forest with nothing but a musket that takes ages to reload and some well-placed rudimentary traps falls short as soon as the goofy looking creatures show up.
Despite being created by a studio based in California, Sang-Froid is probably the most Canadian game ever developed and part of that is due to the game’s awesome soundtrack. The music is so folks-y, it just makes me want to drink a bunch of Canadian whiskey and dance around a fire under the full moon until the fashion disaster werewolves come and join me. I don’t even listen to folk music but I’ve had the loading screen song stuck in my head since I started playing the game which I highly suggest you go and have a listen.
Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves may have a somewhat redundant combat system and substandard art direction with its goofy character designs and mediocre voice acting but it makes up for it with frustratingly awesome gameplay that blends action and strategy in just the right amount. Hopefully, Artifice Studios comes up with a more polished version of Sang-Froid in the next installment in the series.