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As someone who doesn’t enjoy the distance from the action that I usually feel with tower-defense games, the rise of on-the-ground tower defense game has been an exciting development. While both Sanctum and Orcs Must Die have made great advances in the fusion of genres, they both still focus on the defenses as the main actors, with player avatars acting as an auxiliary- though important- force. Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves focuses on the avatars as the lynchpin actor in their take on the hybrid genre. Having spent time with the beta, let’s talk about why Artifice Games’ title is one worth anticipating.

Aesthetically, Sang-Froid takes inspiration from mid-19th century Canada, where the game takes place. I’ll start off by saying the music- done by various Canadian folk-bands- is brilliant. It fits the game’s location of snowy woods and haunted nights. The UI reflects the setting just as well- the wood paneled buttons and store interfaces manage to remain effective while also being gorgeous. The actual 3D models in the game aren’t fantastic, but I’m usually willing to give those things a pass in betas, and even more so when the mechanics are as solid as they are in Sang-Froid.

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Narratively, the game focuses on three siblings: Joseph, Jacques, and Josephine O’Carroll. After the sister is run out of town for allegedly burning down a church, Joseph goes with her to live with Jacques outside the village. Though the brothers have unresolved tension, familial duty compels Jacques to let them stay. Things start going wrong quickly though, as Jacqueline starts to get sick and monstrous wolves and werewolves begin attacking. This is where players step in and take up the role of one of the brothers.

The game is split up into two sections, the setup phase and the actions phase that take place during the day and then the night accordingly. The setup phase will be familiar with anyone who has ever played a traditional tower defense game. The overhead perspective focuses on the area around the cabin and gives players lots of clear information on not just enemy pathing, but numbers of opponents coming on those paths, types of opponents, and even goes so far as to give HP stats and relative speed. It’s a refreshingly direct approach that doesn’t use obfuscation as part of the challenge. Players use all of this information to set up various traps in the environment. The number of traps are limited by two things: action points and money. Action points are a resource that get used up placing traps, each one costing a varied amount of points. Some traps also cost money, which is a resource used for things like new weapons and potions, adding a neat level of complexity to the game.

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One of the main differences between Sang-Froid and something like Sanctum or Orcs Must Die is that many of the traps are player activated. While passive tools like spikes, bait, and wolf traps are available, nets and bonfires require interaction to be set off. Like the resource management of action points and money, this other consideration of where players’ avatars will be during the night adds another level of complexity that makes the setup phase satisfyingly strategic. There’s also the ability for players to go into town and buy bullets, better weapons, get weapons blessed and so on.

The night/action phase is when the dogs of war begin their assault. Players take control of a brother and run the field- setting off traps and fighting enemies hand-to-hand. Equipped with an axe and gun, the chosen brother becomes a focal point in the game as he attempts to protect critical building around the map who are under attack. I think my biggest complaint about the game lies within this stage. Controlling the character feels like a sluggish affair. While sprinting and dodging are available, the movements feel like they’re being done in, well, thick snow. While they may be accurate as it’s what is covering the area, it leads to times when I feel that I’m not able to execute what I want within the rules of the game. Targeting enemies with both the melee weapon and ranged both feel more luck than skill-based, even after I made a concerted effort to be careful and deliberate. Who know how far back this particular build of the beta is, but I hope to see the third-person combat controls improved as it goes forward.

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With a neat aesthetic and nuanced approach to a newer genre, Sang-Froid has a lot going for it. While it’s bogged down with some big flaws in the combat, the strategic phase of the game and conceptual ideas of the action one are exciting. Let’s hope that Artifice does right by this game.

Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves is available for pre-order on Steam now here. Access to the beta is included with the pre-purchase.