Tower-defense is a rather divisive genre. Some people find it boring and refuse to touch it at all, while others can’t get enough of it. I am not the biggest fan of the genre, but I can appreciate a well-designed example when it comes along. Sang-Froid – Tales of Werewolves may not immediately strike you as one of these shining gems of the genre, but you will likely be as surprised as I was when you dig into its depths and see just how well-made it really is.
The story starts off with a bit of a shock: your sister gets sexually assaulted by a priest, their struggle burns down the church in local Wolfsbane, and she runs to hide out with her brothers in the wilderness. It also turns out that she has inherited from her mother, a member of a local tribe with ties to mystical powers, the gift of precognition. She sees that a terrible beast is coming in the future, one that must be stopped or the world will end. Her brothers must fight the denizens of the forest night after night and eventually work with the tribe in order to save the world. It’s all rather grand for the small nature of the setting, which strikes an interesting balance between seemingly petty events like brothers fighting and the devil making deals with the priest who tried to assault your sister. The story beats are a bit silly and very easy to predict but are still fun to watch play out. The voice cast does an admirable job providing character, but it is of an overall quality level of what you would likely expect from a game made by such a small team.
As for the gameplay itself, Sang-Froid is very much a tower defense game, albeit one with a directly controlled character as well. The way it works is that every day starts at dawn. This is when you can spend your action points, (AP) which represent the amount of things the brothers can do in a day, and your money on those traps that require it (which not all of them do). You can also take the money to the nearby town to buy potions with a variety of effects, new weapons and ammo (you always have an axe and a gun at your disposal), gear to make you faster or tougher, and blessings for your weapons to better fight mystical creatures. After you set up your traps for a day, you choose to move to evening and can roam about the map, fighting the creatures who made it past your traps. There are between two and five structures that must be protected at night; lose one of them (or die) and you fail. Succeeding gives XP for various helpful skills and money to buy more weapons and traps.
The number of options you get by the end of the game is absurd. There are twelve traps, such as exploding barrels or traps to snare wolves, with a variety of effects. You can also fight some of the groups on your own with a mixture of holy weapons and regular ones, but trying to juggle multiple groups in this way is highly improbable. Using bait and traps to snare one group while taking one out personally is a strategy used often, but it is far from the only option. You may be surprised at how many things actually work. Impressively, none of the traps feel useless; each of them have a particular situation they are best suited for and can be useful if placed in a smart way. It’s likely you will rely on a few easy-to-do tricks, but there are plenty of options for those who want to try something new.
I really liked the mix of placing “towers” and fighting the creatures myself. A balance is necessary most days as you cannot easily take several groups on without perishing and don’t have the speed to traverse the map quickly enough to deal with various structures being attacked. Clever usage of traps, however, can make it so you don’t have to fight certain waves at all, especially with some of the most powerful, late-game traps. The actual fighting is quite simple but also fun to execute well. You have a basic combo and an unlockable rage move that does extra damage. Dodging is also important, but both swings and dodges tie into your stamina meter–which you don’t want to run out of. Your rifle can be used to pick off distant targets and does reward good aim as headshots do large amounts of hurt to an enemy. Also important to note is the Fear Factor system. Enemies will sometimes be afraid of you, especially if you have a bonfire lit nearby (one of the traps) to keep them at bay. Those foes who are afraid will keep their distance, allowing you to pick a target out from the crowd or shoot a particular one without fear of being hit. The bigger the group, the harder fearing them is. This is why it is extremely important to set up enough traps to thin the crowds before thinking of fighting up close; you will be quickly overwhelmed otherwise. The combat never feels like the focus of the game, but I greatly enjoyed scrapping with various enemy types from night to night.
Sang-Froid is quite good at giving you the information you need to set things up ahead of time. Every day, you get to see all the incoming waves and the direct paths they will take, allowing you to easily set up traps to stop or snare them. It also has a hint system on the menu that gives you an idea of what kinds of things to use to best fight the various waves (although this information trickles down to useless as the game progresses). Most of the traps have a very clear area-of-effect that allows you set them up perfectly, but the bait in particular can be hard to use. It lures enemies over to it, allowing you to better trap multiple enemies or simply keep them busy. The distance of this luring effect isn’t shown on the map (unlike the other traps), an unfortunate oversight that would have curbed some of my annoyance with setting up a viable strategy. Much of the game is dependent on doing a night multiple times to figure out the right techniques to succeed. This bugged me a little bit as I wanted to succeed the first time, but couldn’t accurately predict where I might need a change in my plan. Of course, this fine-tuning of strategy and focus on retrying levels to perfect them is almost expected in games of this genre, so I can’t fault it too much.
If this seems like a lot of mechanics to take in, that’s because it is. Writing all this down made me realize just how much this little game packs into its seven or eight hours of gameplay. I will note that the game does a good job of slowly easing you into the various concepts and strategies, never outright overwhelming you–unless you are new to this genre in general, maybe. Videos of traps and new mechanics pop up daily to let you know how everything works. The difficulty curve of the game itself is nice and gradual at first, but it gets quite rough at the very end. Expect 5+ waves of various creatures to manage, attacking the five different structures you have to defend. It’s never insurmountable, of course, but prepare to put on your strategy hat to finish the game.
I love the way Sang-Froid looks. It may seem a bit lacking in detail in spots, but the art design makes up for this in spades. Everything has a slight cartoony look, with proportions looking strange and a very flat color palette. The game takes place in the Canadian wilderness, so expect to see plenty of fur caps and plaid during your time with the game. Some of my favorite parts of the game are the creature designs; it’s interesting to see what the art designers do with the various mystical creatures that appear in the game. Musically, Sang-Froid is also fantastic. I would love to describe why it is so great, but I am absolutely atrocious at describing music. My suggestion is to listen to some of it and hear for yourself.
I never expected to like Sang-Froid as much as I did. Few tower-defense games (out of the ones I’ve played, of course) do such a good job of implementing so many mechanics while also managing to make each of them viable and useful in their own situations. Some clever touches, such as the way that each wave’s direct paths and the area-of-effect of traps, make the whole strategy part of the game much easier to predict. The actual player-controlled combat is pretty fun too. Consider that the overall audio-visual package is dripping with character and you have a pretty fantastic game overall. I urge you to give Sang-Froid a chance if you have any interest in it at all after reading this review; most likely, you will enjoy it just as much as I did.