Defending towers gets hairy in the free, fantastic Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves

Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves was among the earliest games to make it through Steam Greenlight. It first cropped up in late 2012, back when Steam Greenlight was still a novel little idea, and I played it almost immediately after its April 2013 release. I'm bringing Sang-Froid up now because developer Artifice Studio axed its price tag earlier this year. Yes, Sang-Froid is now completely free. It's also one of the best, most unique tower defense games on Steam. 

Sang-Froid is set in Canada in 1858—Wolvesvale, Canada, to be precise. Not sure if you saw what they did there. It stars the O'Carroll siblings: Joseph, a towering former lumberjack; Jacque, a lanky hunter; and Josephine, a nun. Jacque and Joseph haven't gotten along since Jacque was outlawed for fighting alongside rebels in an insurrection, but they put aside their manly differences to protect Josephine, who flees Wolvesvale after becoming the target of a witch hunt. If you haven't guessed, they're protecting her from wolves, werewolves and other canine aberrations, which serves to illustrate Sang-Froid's greatest strength. 

Sang-Froid is a better werewolf movie than every actual werewolf movie—even the amazingly campy Dog Soldiers—because it taps into the nightmares of 19th century settlers. Your horse is already panting in exhaustion but still you ride it harder because you know what happens if you slow down. You know the stories on the trail, you see their amber eyes darting in the shadows. And more than anything, you hear them. Wolves. Iconic, cunning pack hunters who kill with endurance and numbers. If you so much as stumble, the howls ravaging your ears will be traded for jaws ravaging your flesh.

It's all so intoxicatingly primeval. The frozen wilderness, the cloying darkness. Man. Beast. Fear. And to top it all off, the devil himself. Wolves were often seen as demons, and at least in this case that's right on the money. Corrupted souls commanded by the devil manifest as werewolves at night, not to mention more exotic monsters like windigos and will-o'-the-wisps. Werewolf staples like silver bullets and blessed crucifixes return as well, which only deepens the flavor. Native American mythology is also applied to fabulous effect, and the result is a cast of enemies that's bestial and fantastical. 

You wouldn't know it from its rough art, janky cutscenes and bad voice acting, but Sang-Froid's atmosphere is what truly sets it apart. A big part of that atmosphere is its wonderful, folky soundtrack, overflowing with vigorous strings and wild authenticity. Give it a listen: 

Now that's music you can kill a werewolf to. Which is good, because you'll be killing a lot of them. Sang-Froid takes place over one month, December, each night bringing more and bigger waves of wolves, and nights when the moon shines brightest bringing particularly fierce onslaughts. To survive, you must not only place traps beforehand, but leave the safety of your cabin and engage the beasts yourself. And it's that duality that makes Sang-Froid so fun. 

You don't just build towers and watch them go. Your strategies all hinge on your most important tower: you. Some traps will trigger on their own, but most you have to activate yourself by physically going to them. You might place bait under a hanging rock trap, but it's pointless if you don't shoot the net yourself once several wolves have gathered underneath. But you can't be in two places at once, and as the map expands and you gain more buildings to defend, you'll start corralling and stalling the wolves just to give yourself time to rush over, axe and musket in hand. 

You need the memory and presence of mind to determine where the next wolves will come from and how long they'll be there. And you need to work creatively and efficiently. Traps cost money, and if you spend all of yours on wasteful strategies and cowardly contingency plans, you'll have nothing left to restock your supplies and upgrade your weapons. It's a system that rewards skill and keeps you in the action, and being on the frontline is half the fun.

It's incredibly simple, but Sang-Froid's close-range combat is held up by an inventive fear system. Wolves are smart and cautious; they don't attack randomly. They are, in some small way, afraid of you as well, and you can exploit that. You can shout to force them back (yes, it's called 'intimidating shout') and light fires to break up their packs, which can give you precious windows to attack, reload your musket or heal. Some enemies will destroy you in a straight-up fight, but by weakening or damaging them first, you can tip the scales in your favor. 

Even when you're overwhelmed by fearsome beasts there's always a way out, if you can just come up with a good plan and execute it well. Sang-Froid is empowering in a way few other games are, and especially with it being free, you simply have to give it a try.