Zombies, vampires, robots, aliens - all mere cannon fodder these days, slain by the thousands with nary a concern. Werewolves, though, have somehow managed to hang onto their renown. Still fearsome, still a challenge, still unpredictable and still brutal. If anything, ambitious action-strategy-roleplaying affair Sang-Froid makes the ol' lycanthrope an even stiffer challenge than usual. A single werewolf is a fearsome enough fight here, but often enough you'll be up against getting for a half-dozen of the blighters.
Set in snow-bound North of Canada during the 19th century, Sang-Froid is all big beards, checked shirts, single-shot rifles and folk music. The shortcomings of a clearly small budget are offset by a distinctive aesthetic and the survivalist challenge of using slow, unwieldy low-tech weaponry to hold off invading wolves, werewolves and assorted evil spirits.
At night, the creatures invade, attempting to destroy the buildings and kill the people you, as one of two, glowering lumberjack brothers, try to guard. It's up to you to try and keep them at bay with an axe, a painfully slow rifle and an assortment of simple but cunning traps. In terms of the latter, there's a fair bit of tower defence in there - you setup what you hope is an effective labyrinth of hidden threats to whittle down and contain your foes. The major difference is that each trap only gets one use, so if it's wasted on a single or weak enemy it won't be any good to you when the bigger boys come calling.
On top of that, you can't place any more traps once the wolves have begun their attack, or indeed add any fancy upgrades so you'll have to live with your decisions and hope that you, as a fairly slow and fragile character controlled from a third-person perspective, can manage to take out anything the traps miss. Furthermore, many of the traps require manual activation - for instance, you need to shoot rope nets loose, but mess up the timing and your hairy foes will have run right through the intended spot before their rope cage falls.
Each 'night' is a highly stressful, highly tactical affair, the odds forever against you and failure a common occurrence, but a combination of careful planning and fast thinking will help you keep a lid on enemies invading from multiple corners of a large level.
Between each 'night', you can spend your remarkably meagre earnings (usually less than $5 - in keeping with the low prices of the time) on better weapons, blessing or silver bullets to dish out more damage to the frighteningly hardy more mystical foes, and the odd tonic or reinforced shirt. A sharper axe or a faster gun will only get you so far, however: devising the most efficient combination of spike traps, rope nets, walls of fire, ziplines and magical Native American relics is absolutely key to surviving the night.
Compared to the mania of other third-person action meets tower defence titles, such as Orcs Must Die or Iron Brigade, Sang-Froid is refreshingly, inventively low key, and with it tense and fearsome. What a shame, then, about the atrocious voice-acting and the disorientating switching between in-engine talking heads and cartoon sequences in its many cutscenes.
The story, a tale of deals with devil, rival faiths and lantern jaws in the frozen North, isn't half bad, but both it and the game as a whole feels weaker for its rubbish presentation. Difficulty spikes and a seemingly never-ending tutorial may also serve to keep people at bay, but it's absolutely worth persevering through such foibles. Sang-Froid takes familiar concepts - hack'n'slash action, tower defence, even some light roleplaying - but approaches them in a such a thoughtful, fat-free way that it winds up feeling impressively novel. It's hard not to feel that a sequel would iron out some of the wrinkles, but there's definitely a wolf of smart, thrilling stuff hiding in this somewhat patchy sheep's clothing.