Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves Review (or Cold Blooded Action)

sang-froid-box-artFor Canadian Gaming week, we’re looking at reviewing three games. Two will be indie efforts and one will be published by a major studio. We start our Canadian Gaming Week reviews, with the indies. It’s a recently released game from new Quebec-based developer that touches on early Canadian culture and throws it into a game that hits three different genres.

I’ve never been interested in tower defence games but I’m willing to give one a try if it’s from a Canadian developer so rookie dev Artiface Studio was able to take my $15 based on my Canadian pride. By the end, I’d say that Artiface’s Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves certainly earned it.

The game takes place outside a small village in Canada East in 1858. For those who didn’t take Canadian history in school, before Canada was Canada, it was a British colony. Canada East, called Lower Canada until 1841, was along the St. Lawrence River and was made up of modern-day Quebec and Labrador. As such, most of the population of Canada East was French.

I open with this because the context is important for the story. To me, the story made sense. Not all reviews I’ve read really understood why religion was involved in the story but religion was a major part of life back in the 1800s.

You play one of two lumberjack brothers who have to defend your sister from demonic beings trying to capture her for the Devil. Catholic and Aboriginal religious beliefs both play a part in the game’s story as the Devil from Catholicism and some creatures from Aboriginal beliefs appear as enemies. Both groups have their reasons for wanting your character’s sister but I didn’t think it was particularly well fleshed out.

sang-froid-screenshot-01-mapThe core of the game is the hybrid gameplay that Artifice Studio has put together. It’s a two-stage system. The first is a tower defence strategy element which sees you set up traps to defend your cabin and other properties of importance near your cabin. This portion is done using an overhead map during the daytime. You get a hint as to which enemies are attacking and their attack paths thanks to the powers of your creepily possessed sister.

Each defensive trap uses action points and money. Each trap also has a different effect on enemies. A wolf trap is usually enough to kill wolves but only stop a warewolf for a short period of time. You can setup bait or fire traps to re-route or delay enemies so you can focus your attention elsewhere. Some enemies like will-o-wisps aren’t affect by any of those which means that you have to adjust your trapping based on which enemies you face.

After the strategic planning phase, we go into third-person action phase. Your lumberjack doesn’t sleep all night but is on the ground as the last line of defence should your traps fail. You’re armed with a melee weapon and a firearm to take down any wolves or other possessed demonic beings. The firearms are classic musket style with a lengthy reload time.

sang-froid-screenshot-02-combatThe melee combat starts as hack-and-slash but there is a stamina meter that drains when striking, sprinting and dodging. If your stamina runs out, you’ll need still move and attack very slowly but it’ll take a while to regenerate stamina. There is a rage meter that’s built up as you do damage which can be unleashed in one powerful attack.

This builds up to the third gameplay element. There is an RPG component to the game. You get experience points for each enemy killed and for each objective completed (which is generally just completing waves and objectives). This levels you up which rewards skill points that you can allocate up upgrade skills.

Keeping with the RPG elements, you earn cash by killing enemies and can convert your unused action points from the planning stage into cash by chopping wood. That money can be used to buy new weapons or upgrade your current ones. For example, it’s a good idea to use a blessed weapon which is a paid upgrade from the convent. The nuns have to make money somehow.

That’s just the basic elements of the game. Each element has different bits and pieces of strategy that you can use to make your life easier. Fortunately, these elements and tricks are all introduced gradually as you play using tutorial videos to explain and demonstrate how traps and tricks work. The tutorial system is absolutely fantastic and more games should take note of this because I never felt overwhelmed with new info.

There is so much more to each of the three core elements (strategy, combat and RPG) that I can’t get to because you’d be here all week. For a rookie effort, Artifice sure designed some great gameplay. Not only is it a deep gameplay system but it’s fairly unique. Even if you’re not into Canadian history or comparative religion, there’s some solid gameplay for you to dig into.

The quasi-folk tale nature of the story also carries into the visuals and audio. The soundtrack is dominated by music that reminds me a lot of Maritime folk music. If you aren’t from Canada, you probably would think of it as Celtic-inspired folk music. They’re fairly similar but since this is a Canadian game, I’m calling it Maritime folk music.

sang-froid-screenshot-03-cinematicThe visuals are a mixed bag. I love the comic book-like visuals of the cinematics and strategic map. The in-game graphics do keep a bit of that same style of simple drawings. The landscapes aren’t overly detailed. It looks and feels like you live in a cabin isolated in the woods which makes sense given the story. For a $15 indie, the in-game graphics are good but not great.

The game isn’t without its faults. The initial load time when booting the game is atrocious  If you’re a smoker, you could start the game, smoke half a pack and come back in time to watch the last 30 seconds of the load screen. It is unbelievably terrible. Every time I launched the game, I was certain that the application froze. The introductory cinematic plays every time you launch the game and I can’t help but wonder how much the load times would change if that wasn’t automatically played every time you started the game. The rest of the load times are very short, though. Artifice just completely dropped the ball with that opening load screen.

Speaking of atrocious, the voice acting in this game is terrible. It was as if the devs asked their English-speaking friends and family who didn’t have accents to voice this game. The main characters are O’Donnells but don’t sound Irish. For living in Canada East (modern-day Quebec), no one had a French/Quebecois accent either. Apart from the accent troubles, the actual acting was non-existent. I can see where the time, effort and money went in this game and certainly none of it went to the voiceover talent. Okay, the tutorial video guy was the best voice in the game. That’s sort of sad when you think about it.

Conclusion

sang-froid-screenshot-04-josAs I said off the top, I’m not one for tower defence slash strategic planning type games. That may be a result of or causing my general inability to successfully play chess. However, Sang-Froid’s two core gameplay types allow people more comfortable with either strategy or hack-and-slash games to be able to play Sang-Froid without immediately wanting to pull out your hair. The very helpful tutorial system helps in that regard as well.

I quite liked Sang-Froid. The fact that I found the strategy and combat elements to compliment rather than conflict with each other is a massive achievement for Artifice made all the better by the fact that this is their first time developing a game. I’m not sure many experienced devs could pull something like this off. After all, Paradox thought Gettysburg: Armored Warfare hit the market. Despite that shooter/strategy hybrid gameplay, it was an unmitigated disaster. Sang-Froid shows that there is life in the genre. It just takes some fresh thinking to make it work.

Rating: 8.0/10

This week is Canadian Gaming Week on The Lowdown Blog. For more, check out the Canadian Gaming Week tag.

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