Sang-Froid Review: Alone Against The Wolves
I can’t say that I’ve ever played a game quite as diverse as Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves.
It captures a little bit of everything. There is a third-person combat system that emphasizes stamina and use of fear. There is an RPG-like progression of gaining better equipment and skills after you complete each day. Most important, there is a competent – but not great – tower defense title tying it all together. Sang-Froid is a patchwork game, and while it is stitched together well, I can’t help but shake the feeling that it should have been a different game.
Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Artifice Studio
Publisher: Artifice Studio
Released: April 5, 2013
Sang-Froid follows two brothers and their possessed sister (who sits in the house in perpetual sickness) as they fight off various forces of pre-modern devilry. These antagonists range from an incredibly obvious Satan (he’s dressed in all red, talks in a strange voice, and has the caption “devil” in the text; watching him interact with the various characters is almost always hilarious) to a pack of angry shapeshifters, but they all have one thing in common: wolves. You will be fighting a lot of enemies with wolf-like traits.
Thanks to these wolves, night in Sang-Froid is far more dangerous than in our world. Each night the brothers are forced to fight off hordes of wolves and other supernatural creatures to prevent them from taking their sister or destroying any of the essential structures such as the sawmill or barn. This manifests itself as a tower-defense game similar to the likes of Orcs Must Die or Sanctum. You place traps to weaken or kill enemies, and then finish off the stragglers yourself in 3rd-person combat.
Keeping in line with the dark theme, Sang-Froid has many complications to keep you struggling to survive. Sound and smell play important roles in determining how enemies find you, and said enemies will always prioritize your murder over the destruction of a structure. Many traps, like the bonfire or hanging net, require you to be physically present to activate the trap. This is in place to emphasize that it is you who has to fight away the denizens of the dark, not your mechanisms. Fire walls can divert enemies to new paths, and watchtowers allow you to move between points really quickly (at the potential cost of losing the tower if enemies spot you on it), but you will almost always need to leap into combat to actually survive.
The combat system is easily the most intriguing aspect of the game, and is far better than the tower defense bits. When you are fighting a group of enemies, they will pace around you. As they become more bold (represented by a fear number at the bottom of the screen) they will attack you. Damaging and killing enemies drives that fear back up, though, so combat becomes a sharp division between actual fighting and recuperation. There are other ways to manipulate fear for both sides (you can shout and use bonfires; enemies can enrage), but the general thrust is that you have to pick your fights and properly manage the enemy packs in order to survive.
Mixing this careful combat with tower defense is where I feel that Sang-Froid flops. The traps and tower defense style are decent enough, but they seem at odds with the methodical and cautious combat. You have to run around the map pretty much constantly – the map is gigantic, by the way – in order to catch enemies, which leaves little time to really get into the ebb and flow of combat. The combat’s pacing fits Sang-Froid’s atmosphere of cold, dark bleakness far better than setting up traps and fighting off flaming ghosts. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to play Sang-Froid as an open-world action game, rather than a tower defense title.