Sang-Froid (song-fwa, for those whose French needs a stropping) is the kind of game that will instantly let you know whether or not you’re going to love it, based upon the very first loading music that plays. Not since the boundless optimism of Civilization IV’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer has a piece of music so perfectly captured the tone of the game’s thematic influences as well as its beautiful stylised visuals. This is a game with a clear and commanding identity.
The gameplay that follows is just as unique. To call it mere tower defence is a disservice to the amount of thought that has obviously gone into differentiating Sang-Froid from the oversaturated genre. Far more tactical and far less mind-numbing, the game presents a two-part hybrid of planning and action.
There are wolves, and at night they come to wreck up the place, so you spend the day allocating funds to the placement of traps around a snow-covered forest. All key information is communicated in this top-down view: what kinds of enemies will be present in each wave, as well as the direction they’ll attack from and path they will take. Success in this daylight phase depends upon how well you can interpret this information and how smart you are with your trap placement as a result.
There are wolves, and at night they come to wreck up the place
The second half takes place at night, and it’s a third-person action melee thing with just as strong an emphasis on smart thinking. Running through the dark forests and co-ordinating your own attacks with the placement of your traps highlights just how rewarding a well-planned strategy is in this action phase.
We say action, but really, it’s built upon a strong tactical foundation. Just as the overhead daytime view communicates as much information as possible, so too does the game convey the intentions of the wolf packs themselves. The next enemy to attack is always highlighted, as is the time at which they will lunge. A rather stingy stamina meter that depletes with every swing and dodge encourages careful consideration of every action, with extremely tense cooldown periods where both wolf and woodman circle each other and growl.
This is the true source of tension in Sang-Froid – a Fear Factor mechanic that governs when an enemy will attack, stand its ground or retreat. Survival comes down to managing fear and taking advantage of windows of opportunity as they present themselves – or creating those windows with buffs and abilities. It’s a simple yet wholly unique kind of tower defence AI.
As the days progress, Sang-Froid gets bigger and more complex, with more enemies, items and strategic avenues available. Though its in-game art doesn’t keep pace with its wondrous thematic inspiration, and the voice acting is mostly laughable, Sang-Froid is nonetheless an accomplished indie celebration of Canadian folklore and the furthering of a fledgling genre.