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Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves

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By Mokman06-03-2013
Bobfish (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves

The Defence

Developer:
Artifice Studio
Publisher:
Artifice Studio
Genre:
Strategy, Action, Role Playing, Indie
Release Date:
01-03-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core i5
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 9800
AMD Radeon HD4850
RAM:
4 GB
HDD:
4 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

Well, this is a strange one. I've played many games over the course of time I have been a gamer, but I still have to admit, with the recent influx of indie games, there have been more and more genres and styles of play that have left me pleasantly on the back foot, this game being a prime example. Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves is essentially a game about survival amidst a cursed, demonic forest where wolves possessed by the devil and evil spirits, not to mention the titular werewolves, attempt to storm the tiny cabin in which the heroes reside, every single night for 30 days. There is, of course, a reason behind this, but without giving the plot away, let's just say the story is as dark as they come, featuring an appearance by Lucifer himself.

What interests me most though, is the gameplay behind this story - every night for 30 nights, your area (a small mapped out enclave featuring different defensible locations such as a mill, bridges, etc.) is attacked by a motley assortment of devilish and strange beasts from relevant myths, whereupon the night is divided into two stages. In the first stage, one concerns himself with setting traps and preparations for the night, in order to maximize the battleground that he will be fighting in. In the second, he takes to the field himself, running about with an axe and a rifle, luring beasts into the traps and setting them off so as to ensure that everything goes according to plan. And as it always is with these things, they rarely do.

Somehow this is one of the most intense moments in a videogame I have experienced so far.

Somehow this is one of the most intense moments in a videogame I have experienced so far.

What's so novel about the gameplay though, is how the developers, Artifice Studios, managed to complement the two aforementioned stages together, gelling them together by making the first stage matter much more when placed in conjunction with the second. One such example would be the use of the net trap, a slightly more advanced trap that does not simply set itself off. Instead, setting it up would only place a net full of rocks in between two trees on the first stage of the night. Then, in the second stage, your character would either have to place bait underneath the net, or move to the net and make enough noise that they themselves become bait - after which you would move to a safe distance and spring the trap, shooting the net out and dropping the rocks on whatever unfortunate monstrosity is currently underneath it. This is just one example, but many others apply, with obvious forethought having been put into them. Traps are not very effective on their own, bear traps being lethal but with only an incredibly small area of effect, thus encouraging players to lure wolves into the traps rather than to spam an area with unnecessarily large numbers of the damn things. This aspect of the game brings into the tower defence genre a breath of fresh air, taking away the old concepts and placing a new layer of thought into the defence process.

The second stage though, where one controls the character in a much more familiar action-rpg format, is where the game's weakness shows. Note that I was playing the beta and thus may have been subjected to a couple of more rough edges than the final game will portray, but what I do have to say about the combat is simple: shooting mechanics are fun and tense while the melee mechanics are boring and floaty. Looking first at the more pleasurable of the two combat systems, shooting involves loading and firing a single shot musket, an action that is surprisingly satisfying as one tries to line up an insta-kill headshot while attempting not to panic. This is further enhanced by a fear mechanism, where not dealing damage, one way or another, to the wolves for too long would embolden them, allowing them to charge you. Thus, taking into account the nail-bitingly long time it takes to reload the musket, it allows for some truly tactical gameplay as one frantically tries to line up another shot, watching the wolves get bolder and bolder through a handy fear meter at the bottom of the screen, sweating as the clock ticks closer to the next attack. The result is surprisingly intense gameplay. This then is coupled with an interesting pseudo-RPG system where the player can level up his hero and invest skill points in different trees, allowing him either new combat abilities or enhancing his other skills.

Yep, that's the devil.

Yep, that's the devil.

On the other hand, the melee portions do not translate as well, as a result of both a lack of innovation and extremely unpolished combat mechanics. Strangely over the top and contrived for such a serious and atmospheric game, the melee combat not only serves to break immersion and the tense mood that is so well built by the rest of the game, but also as a major source of frustration. I daresay the combat so far is the most floaty I've seen in a game till now. Granted yes, this is a beta, and I am being unfair in listing it as one of the major faults, but the combat truly was keyboard-shatteringly hard, for all the wrong reasons. Who the hell thought it was a good idea for the wolves to knock you back, but also to have you move like a constipated ox? Anyway, I have to say, the melee combat really was a huge downer, but fortunately, play your cards right and you'll never actually have to experience it at all, simply using your rifle strategically all the time.

Graphics-wise, this game is unsurprisingly rough around the edges, and I am forced to admit I do not like the art style or design of this game at all. It attempts to go for the cartoonish 3D look, which fails miserably when you realize that it would have been much better served with a full 2D look, or even cell-shaded like in Borderlands. Instead, we end up with a game that looks like it came out of the Nintendo 64. Cutscenes are played with cardboard cut-outs of the characters looking unconvincingly at each other from two sides of the screen, which has its own style, I have to admit, just one that I find difficult to appreciate. What I find strangest of all is their decision to make the game's art direction slightly cartoonish, when it would have benefitted much more from a heavy stylistic look that emphasized the darkness of the story and plot.

The most interesting part about this game.

The most interesting part about this game.

The audio too, is terrible, but that's expected of an indie game such as this, whereas the music is genuinely good, fitting in with the atmospheric nature of the game and crafting a believably dark and grim world not only through visuals, but in the background as well.

Ultimately, this game is still in beta, so some of my comments may appear irrelevant with hindsight. Still, I have to say that I did enjoy my time playing this game and would definitely buy it when it comes out, trusting that the developers would have ironed out the kinks by then. And hopefully give my character a choice to use his bare fists to fend off the wolves, all the while drinking whisky and lighting fires.

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