Wot I Think: Sang-Froid – Tales of Werewolves

By Alec Meer on April 12th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Artifice Studio’s newly-released Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves is, for lack of a better term, an action-strategy-roleplaying game about trying to defend a small community in the 19th century Canadian wilderness from invading wolf-creatures. It’s both fascinating and infuriating: here’s why.

Sang-Froid might have had a bit of a rummage around in tower defence’s wardrobe, but it comes out of it wearing an outfit so different that you mightn’t ever guess its origins. Specifically, it’s akin to that breed of boots-on-the-ground tower defence/action-RPG crossover, as seen in the likes of Orcs Must Die and Sanctum, but with a survivalist bent. You play as one of two bearded, bickering brothers (the burly one means Normal difficulty, the skinny one means Hard) who barely have anything other than sticks, stones, rope and their inadvertently fashionable checked shirts to defend their family and friends from a seemingly endless invasion of supernatural horrors.

Making it through a level feels desperate and stressful rather than indulgently genocidal. You’ve only a handful of traps, all of which are used up if activated just once. Your rifle takes up to ten terrifying seconds to reload. Most of the enemies you face will be almost completely resistant to whatever weapons you’ve decided to take with you. The holdings you need to defend are scattered across huge areas, which you either need to slowly sprint between or spend precious money on ziplines to reach them at speed. Every trap, platform or bonfire you place, in fact, eats away at the vanishingly small amount of money you have to spend on better gear for yourself – manage to scrape together $10 in Sang-Froid and you’re like a king.

No matter how well you might do in the face of all this adversity, all you can ultimately achieve is to grimly hold out until dawn, when the monsters retreat to prepare for the next night’s onslaught. While they do that, you buy weapon upgrades, set up new traps and, if you’ve levelled up, agonise between whether to spend your skill points on upgrades to melee, the achingly slow-to-load rifle or the many different sorts of traps. The choice is rarely an easy or obvious one.

My teeth hurt from gritting them. My brow aches from furrowing it. At least my legs don’t feel as stiff as they usually do when I spend a while with a videogame, as I find I need to go for walk and calm down after each level. It’s not that it’s especially difficult, really – it’s relentless. It’s relentless even though it throws relatively small numbers of enemies at you, because it spreads them far and wide so you, with your limited stamina, need to exhaustedly sprint all over the place, and because almost none of them can be killed quickly and/or easily.

While you can make it a certain way by simply attacking whichever wolves, werewolves, ancient-spirits-in-wolf-form and will o’the wisps you can reach or lure to you before they trash one of the wooden buildings under you care, surviving does require mastering some fairly complex and risky strategies, devised within a top-down map before each mission begins, and enacted from a third person perspective once it has. For instance, arguably the most powerful trap is the rope net, which hangs above what is hopefully a wolftastic thoroughfare but can only be activated by you firing a shot at it. So you lurk near it, trying to time it just right so it snares a maximum number of beasts. Shoot too early and you might only catch one or two; shoot too late and they might have all charged past it and are now cheerfully converging on your face.

Plus the sound of the shot will likely attract other wolves within earshot, so it’s good odds that you’ll be overwhelmed. You’re reasonably handy against one or two foes, but a stand-up fight against four or more won’t go well for you. (Even if you do survive, there’s the terrible knowledge that you’ll need to immediately high-tail it over to the other side of the map and do it all over again before you can rest.)

On the other hand, forcing enemies to come after you is critical to luring them away from the buildings, as if any of those are trashed the level’s failed. There are abilities specifically geared to getting the pack’s attention, one of which involves Native American magic that can alter the direction of the wind in hope that the hairy blighters will catch the presumably piquant scent of your sweaty lumberjack shirt. If that stuff pays off, you might then need to kite a deadly horde of wolkin around the map to try and run them over a spike-trap or, if they’re one of the more demonic sorts, into the temporary radius of a shrine which emits holy energy. Yeah, Sang-Froid’s a pretty random grab-bag of North American mysticism, but then again it’s a game about beardy 19th century Canadian blokes killing werewolves so I’m happy to take whatever it offers in my stride.

The aforementioned setting is an appealing one, offering a pre-technology aesthetic’s that broadly snow, fire and facial hair, which is accompanied by a rather good, folksy soundtrack. The plot juggles all manner of horror mythology, with the likes Faust, Dracula, the Wolfman all contributing to what would be a lot of fun if it wasn’t so appallingly acted. Sadly there’s no option to turn off voices and stick to subtitles, or I’d have been all over it. As it was, I found myself just skipping cutscenes wholesale before too long, partly because they were painful to listen to and partly because failing a level is a regular occurrence, and replaying it means replaying the videos too. The latter’s especially grating because the an ongoing tutorial runs through the bulk of the game, as it drip-feeds new trap types, and the game doesn’t remember that you’ve already heard its lessons at least once already.

In fact, the tutorial element is the game’s major stumble. It spends far too long introducing itself, leaving little time to feel unfettered and ready to experiment. Balance seemed to spike wildly too: some levels were a walkover, others had me groaning in frustration as I failed for a fourth time. It can be a bit of an endurance test, though the urge to see what it would throw at me next and to scrape together enough in-game currency to afford the small number of essential gear upgrades kept me going. Essentially, it’s a tight concept in an appealing setting, but covered in so many rough edges that slogging your way through to the good stuff at its heart can feel fatiguing. It also very much looks like it was made on a limited budget – which is fine, but coupled with the voice acting issue the sense of cheapness does get distracting.

I was impressed by Sang-Froid more than I actually liked it, basically. I’m very glad to have played it though, and particularly impressed to see a refreshing, almost deconstructionist take on ground that, between Orcs Must Die, Sanctum and Iron Brigade, has been covered many times of late. Sang-Froid rewinds what’s usually points-crazed cartoon mania into tense survival and very careful decision-making, and, if you can stomach the presentation issues, it’ll reward anyone who prefers thoughtful strategy over wanton destruction.

It’s very tempting to breezily say “a sequel will iron out the problems”, especially as this game rather bravely calls itself ‘Tome 1′, but hell, this is here right now, and it’s smart and different even if it is a bit all over the place. Don your best last-season hipster shirt and go see if you can trap enough wolves to earn ten bucks.

Sang-Froid is out now.

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66 Comments »

  1. RogerioFM says:

    The story and the gameplay are awesome. But the lumberjacks VA was very wooden.

    • Premium User Badge darkChozo says:

      I dunno, I found myself lycan it after a while.

      • bfandreas says:

        You weren’t supposed to wolf down the levels that fast anyhooo

        • iucounu says:

          Yeah, you don’t want to do it full pelt.

          • Arglebargle says:

            I canis see what you did there!

          • iridescence says:

            Hmmm…methodical tower defense strategy game? Seems like this one will appeal to cold blooded gamers.

          • Premium User Badge tigerfort says:

            Wooden you know it – first comment starts a pun thread.

          • P7uen says:

            Yeah didn’t like the VA, think it was the timber of his voice.

          • daniyaalseeq says:

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          • vek329 says:

            *sigh* Another wonderful pun thread ruined by spam. These sorts of things make me so FURious

      • Wonkyth says:

        Yeah, I don’t see what they’re all howlin’ aboot.

        • Samwise Gamgee says:

          yeah if you need a break fur a while you can just paws it

    • zain3000 says:

      Is it possible to claw your way back into a level after staring down the barrel?

    • Gotem says:

      Seeing it was written by Brian PERRO (dog) I think that predates all puns

  2. Lagwolf says:

    One has to wonder if this genre is plaid out.

    • Tuhalu says:

      Axe a silly question like that and you are going axing for trouble. Unless of course, you like to wear wolf.

  3. Malky says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve heard the voice acting is better in French.

    • RogerioFM says:

      It really isn’t, it’s as bad, if not worse than in English.

      • iniudan says:

        I disagree with you, yes it not good, kind of lack emotion, but at least they don’t sound bored like in the English one. =p

        • RogerioFM says:

          “As I live and breath Joséphine” That line made me cringe, horrible way to introduce you to the characters.

  4. cptgone says:

    in a game with wolves and nuns, why are wolves the bad guys? doesn’t make sense.

    • Vorphalack says:

      Because a game based around saving a town full of wolves from endless hordes of ravaging nuns would be utterly ridic-……..actually that sounds awesome. Why ARE wolves the bad guys?

    • sonson says:

      Yeah, I love the look of this but I would genuinely struggle having to kill doggies : (

      And no, I don’t care about killing humans in games either, fuck em.

      • vek329 says:

        I don’t mind killing doggies as long as they walk on two legs and have an unstoppable desire to kill anything that lives.

    • elgonzo says:

      I agree, save the puppies!
      It is always said a dog (which is just the family version of a wolf) is man’s best friend. Never heard anything similar about nuns…

    • zenjestre says:

      i would name my firstborn child after any company that wants to make a game where i am a big bad wolf in an open-world, procedurally generated forest inhabited by small communities of nuns. it doesn’t even need a plot. just that, and i would play it until i died.

  5. iniudan says:

    What are you talking about, the voice acting is not that bad, but you have to listen to it in French. =p

  6. Lemming says:

    This seems like a spiritual successor to The Horde. Anyone remember that?

    • Premium User Badge Oozo says:

      I do remember it. Probably in fonder memories than the game actually deserves.

      (And the “Mmmm, mjam mjam” sound one of the big hordlings made upon eating a human is engraved in my inner ear for eternity.)

      Edit: Watching that video, I realized that I do in fact remember a lot more soundeffects: The howling. The sword-swinging. The squishy sound when a hordling dies. No I have to ask myself if the game — and especially the sound — was not that bad, actually.

      • TsunamiWombat says:

        I enjoyed the large ham live acted cutscenes myself. The wicked schenishal was a delight. Unfortunatly I could never progress very far in that game, i’d get to like the second season and be overwhelmed.

  7. Terics says:

    I enjoyed this game far more then I thought I would. Methodical Orcs Must Die is a great summary of it. When I was at my finest, all the traps would trigger on time, killing half of the foes, and the I’d finish off the rest in a final skirmish near a protecting cross or bonfire. Its a nice game, a little rough in some spots, but nice as a whole.

    • Machinations says:

      Its good to see the Canadian pass-time of werewolf home defense and murderous deathtrap construction is finally get the attention it deserves.

      I do wish this has coop, as I wrote to the developer on the Steam forum page; hopefully, as with Orcs Must Die 2, we will get a coop follow-up; coop seems a perfect fit for the game.

      • vek329 says:

        This game SCREAMS for coop. The sad thing is though is that I think the enemy layout is made with only one player in mind.

  8. Colonel J says:

    The ‘fear factor’ part of the combat deserves a mention I thought but didn’t get one, It’s an original (to me anyway) and well implemented mechanic that adds to the tension and the tactics and to the feeling you really are fending off wild animals rather than just the usual stream of tower defence enemies.

    And the art direction and the music are both bloody ace.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Indeed it’s an original and well-implemented mechanic.

  9. Michael Fogg says:

    I’m a lumberjack and I’m all right
    I work all day and kill wolves all night

  10. Blackseraph says:

    Yeah, I wish we could have played as a werewolf.

  11. Shadowcat says:

    The game is only available on Steam, judging from the FAQ.

  12. Phantoon says:

    Certainly sounds interesting. Too many games avoid making the player feel like they’re pinned down or trapped.

  13. strangeloup says:

    But what if you could talk to the werewolves?

  14. The Dark One says:

    Minor nitpick, but ‘Native American’ isn’t really a term that we use in Canada. Groups are generally described as being Inuit, Métis or a First Nation.

    • Docm30 says:

      In this part of the country (which is to say the west coast) the term First Nations is only used by politicians. I don’t recall ever having heard any regular person call such people anything other than Indian or Native.

      • slerbal says:

        A fair point though as Alec is British and in the UK calling the indiginous people of North America just ‘Natives’ might be a bit confusing but calling them ‘Indians’ would be doubly so. Many people over here blink and look confused when you call the Inuit that rather than the incorrect ‘Eskimo’. I’m part Saami and genereally have to say something like ‘Saami, y’know Lapps?’ though mostly iI default to Swedish :-)

        Names are easily given, hard to change. I was looking at a 1715 map of the British North American colonies in the Royal Geographical Society the other day and much was devoted to the ‘Esquimaux’ and terrible drawings of beavers… One lf the saddest notes on the map was the placement of the ‘Sew tribe’ onthe coast of Carolina prior to the Trail of Tears which I learned about on my last visit.

      • vek329 says:

        Last week I saw a native call another native indian. I think it’s growing on them.

  15. Slinkyboy says:

    Thx RPS, this game is awesome and needs more attention!!

  16. Jixsoh says:

    SWEET! I just got a free Minecraft card code at http://minecraftcode.me/

  17. Muzman says:

    This is the manliest game ever made. Stay up all night and strike fear into the heart of Werewolves by bellowing at them.

  18. dsch says:

    And now you’re going to tell us exactly what you meant by ‘deconstructionist’?

  19. Solar says:

    I just logged in. To lumber a point. Gameplay is quite balanced, but only by the time and money it takes to place traps, certain combos are very powerful(fire walls are too cheap). Three great features: fear, scent, logging. The later rewards you for being frugal with your traps and the only way of ensuring the more powerful are affordable. Main gripes: cut scenes and story sections are storyboard placeholders with very minor post production, not worth spending money on some of the more powerful items unless you get them as soon as available, can’t easily save planning for the day unless you start the night cycle before log out.Overall quite enjoyable game, the resource planning in the day is fantastic and clearly where all the love was spent, as it should be.

  20. b0rsuk says:

    If you like this game, check out the hilarious DOS game The Horde. It has nice, pre-rendered graphics, very silly design and animations, memorable music. The balance is not great, but overall it’s very amusing.

  21. garisson says:

    Smexism is indeed a GRAVE topic, and we all have the brave folks at RPS to thank, bringing to light the mortifying TRANSGRESSIONS of this most despicable patriarch-like industry. So thank you RPS, for such politically correct ENLIGHTENMENT.

    Of course, I refuse to comment here and on this site, as such comments will no doubt be leveled by worthless rednecks. But should anyone be prompted to actually E-MAIL me, I’m more than willing to describe what a sack of ignorant shit they are:

    http://WWW.I‘m so fucking politically correct.com. :)

    • cptgone says:

      your parody is a little off at the end.
      after this bit: “But should anyone be prompted to actually E-MAIL me, I’m more than willing to” it should continue with: “let you waste your time putting forward rational arguments la la la i can’t hear you”.

    • godofdefeat says:

      If you have any complaints about RPS, then e-mail the RPS contact: contact@rockpapershotgun.com
      I do not tolerate sexism against women but at the same time i can´t stand the extreme feminists. I hate this world.

    • jrodman says:

      The term ‘politically correct’ comes from soviet communist times when there were issues of ‘prevailing political winds’ that it was wise to not go against, if you wanted to keep your career / life / etc. In that context, the term has real meaning. By simile, you could use it in another context when the demands on how you present your views are so strong that there is no real choice.

      To use that term in western culture is a farce. It attempts to imply that prevailing social views are NOT contra-indictable safely. Of course using the term in western culture specifically is an attempt to shut down debate, so is self-mockery.

      Since most modern users don’t know what the term means, they use it instead to mean “of the prevailing views”. Which is worse than useless, because there are many different prevailing views on many different topics, which are not linked in any way, and do not have the same levels of definition or formality. There’s no sameness in say, the idea that everyone deserves healthcare to the idea that equality should exist for women. Civil and social issues are varied and complex, and views on them cannot be all grouped under one label without wilfully driving out understanding and meaning.

      So in the best possible case, people who say “politically correct” are lazy and uninformed, and are accidentally reducing any chance for reasonable discussion. But typically they are trolls.

      • TsunamiWombat says:

        I’m not sure there’s much point to this thread but I would like to assert the idea that political correctness as it relates to the original term in western culture doesn’t exist is a fallacy.

        Certainly the KGB isn’t going to show up at your house, strip you naked and ship you off to Siberia after confiscating all of your property for glorious party, but there can be definitive SOCIAL repercussions for daring to be iconoclastic or contrarian to conventional political or social climate. Move to the American South/South East and try to be a vocal or even just known athiest, muslim, or anything other than baptist or generalized american christian really for instance, and see how your employment situation goes. And please remember to -report all of your co-workers discussing unionization- (actual instructions I’ve received from jobs as innocuous as working at a grocery store).

    • dsch says:

      At least you can find one of John Walker’s articles to post this on.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      To be fair, they haven’t deleted this comment despite it having a chain of replies, so it can’t be ALL THAT BAD.

  22. GOU_NoMoreMrNiceGuy says:

    what kind of man wears both suspenders AND a belt???!