Sang Froid is ultimately an interactive folk tale full of supernatural creatures and humour; with a unique blend of action based gameplay mixed with tactical style gaming that provides an interesting take on fighting waves of werewolves in the frozen forests of Canada.
Sang Froid sets gamers in the role of a family having to fend off wolves, werewolves and many other creatures sent forth by the Devil himself in order to take down the younger sister, Josephine. You play as either of her two lumberjack brothers and selecting either of which will change the difficulty that the rest of the game will be – Josy O’Carroll being the normal difficulty, whilst walking in Jacky’s shoes provides a more difficult challenge. Moving through a series of nights set in in December 1858, starting from December 5th through to the 24th, Christmas Eve, successfully surviving each night moves the story along a chapter. The calendar also shows the moon cycle: from the new moon through to the Blood Moon, more commonly known as a Red Moon, which will bring the Maikan Warrior werewolves who have even less weaknesses than the ferocious werewolves that become a common sight down your rifle’s scope. The Maikan also foretell the coming of the invisible demon that unleashes hell on Earth when it arrives, and with the lunar changes progressing to Quarter Moon, Half Moon and eventually Full Moon, you can bet your attackers will become stronger, more numerous and eventually bring all sorts of evil with them.
Sang Froid combines a whole host of gaming styles which delivers a blend that fits surprisingly well. From actual action, shooting rifles and swinging axes, which can be improved upon by either purchasing better weapons in the town or better ammunition or even by going to a Convent in town and getting a holy woman to pray over them and give them an edge when fighting these demonic creatures. There are tactical elements in order to prepare for the next battle. With wave after wave of enemies coming at you, you can view their numbers, waves, starting points, paths and set up various traps. These traps range from simple bear traps to fire walls which block enemies’ paths, forcing them to either take another route or damage themselves when passing through the flames. And lastly RPG style skill trees to bridge the gap between the two, allowing you to level up your abilities with Skill Points earned by defeating enemies and completing the night, both Special and Basic. Some of these abilities include Marksmanship which allows for faster reload times or increasing your Shout level, so that enemies can hear it from further away and intimidating them more, which in turn, slows down the rate they attack but draws them to the spot you were standing in when you Shouted.
Completing each chapter or night on the calendar, a new element will be brought in, maybe a new tactic or a new trap, and every now and again a new enemy with unique defense abilities that make them harder to kill or require a very specific method of attack in order to defeat. Dying or failing the night through losing one of your property assets such as your house, the barn or the saw mill, means the night will start over and you can choose to start from Twilight – which will allow you to start the night over with all your traps still in place. If you start at Dawn, you can replace any traps, purchase new things in town and allocate Skill Points on the Skill Tree. Sometimes starting from Dawn is the only way as you need to make adjustments to your traps and so on. However it can become a tiring experience as often the game will let you know of any new aspects to the map that are noteworthy on the strategy board – a new path opening up due to some water freezing over – having to go through this multiple times can be extremely irritating.
The town offers an assortment of items from eau de vie, beer or whiskey from the Hotel-Saloon, each of which will either restore some life or make your attacks stronger, or you can purchase new weapons such as axes from the Blacksmith or rifles from the General Store. Finding money for these assets can be difficult, considering you are awarded a small amount of money for each beast you kill, but also can earn money through chopping lumber at the saw mill. However, doing so will cost you Action Points which are required in order to place traps and so on at the Strategy Board and so a juggling act must be maintained in order to survive.
There is a unique look that really emphasizes the folk tale feeling throughout the game. Most notably the skill of the visual artists is shown off during loading screens where tips and hints are suggested, there is also usually a run-down of a new enemy with some outstanding image depicting the beast. The colours suit the story and surrounding environments very well, with most of the surrounding forest hidden in darkness and shadow, providing a slight hesitancy when roaming along the snow white paths in the immediate area. However, the one major downfall visually for this game is that some of the animations are very basic and are ultimately a disappointment with everything else being so immersive and well executed.
Creating an atmosphere that truly captures the essence of the game overall, the score is something that really stands out and manages to hold its own in a world of forgettable background blur that can often accompany such titles. The intro music on the loading screen actually became one of those tunes that sticks in the mind long afterwards, with its upbeat and cheery folk music. Sound effects do not get overlooked here either; the creatures have suitably apt growls for stalking then short sharp barks when they attacks, not to miss over the spine tingling howls from the wolves and werewolves.
Through combining multiple aspects of gaming including action, role playing and tactical style strategy throughout your time spent in the icy Canadian forests filled with folk lore and a tongue in cheek story that is still compelling at the same time, Sang Froid manages to deliver an enjoyable experience that will keep many entertained for hours on end. Fighting through waves of werewolves and demonic creatures sent by the devil himself becomes enjoyable but still a challenge at the same time which results in a nice balance not often found in an indie game. Sang Froid is worth some love and attention and will not be a game to regret playing, though may be a bit of a frustrating time for those not accustomed to strategy type gaming.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied by Artifice Studio. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 7.5/10
Visuals – 7/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 6/10
Overall – 7.5/10
(Not an average)
RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure
A Conflicted Beginning
The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.
Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.
As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.
Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.
With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).
Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.
Gunplay To Die For
Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.
Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.
The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.
Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.
Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.
The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.
The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.
However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.
A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast
The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.
Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.
With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.
To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).
Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.
A Slipshod Structure
Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.
Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.
Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.
On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.
Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
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