Roman Sands RE:Build Preview — An Impossible-To-Describe Vaporwave Vacay

I’m going to call it now: Roman Sands RE:Build is going to be one of those cult classic games that will show up on your favorite indie dev’s favorite indie games list. Like Arbitrary Metric’s previous game, Paratropic, Roman Sands RE:Build has all the strangeness, all the fascinating, near-satirical design, and all the atmospheric charm that you could ask for.

I had the pleasure of playing a roughly 6 hour preview, encapsulating the first act of the game and a peek into the second. And, before I say anything else, I want to say: if you like the weird and the experimental, wishlist this game now. If you like to see what video game narratives can be, wishlist this now. Heck, if you just like games that you can describe as “calm, but eerie”, wishlist this now. You won’t regret it. If you aren’t yet convinced, though, allow me to try to change that.

But, before we get into that, let’s very briefly talk about Paratropic. I promise, it’s important, like all of my introductory history lessons are. Because Paratropic is a masterpiece of indie horror. Not quite as well known as Anatomy (itself fairly obscure), Paratropic was a fascinating and experimental VHS-horror game about linearity and the unknown. Its short length and seemingly unsatisfactory endings mask the cleverness of its plot and themes, but I mean it when I — someone who plays dozens of indie horror titles — say that it is one of the best-in-genre. It’s weird, its different, and it was one of those games that kicked off a whole slew of Itch.io-based horror titles that… Well, most didn’t live up to their predecessors (sorry, Nun Massacre).

roman sands rebuild paratropic comp
Paratropic is a short-but-sweet horror masterpiece that helped spark the trend in VHS horror

Suffice to say, Paratropic is one of my favorites. If it had come out while I was working here, I’d have written a lot more about it. It is a game that is easy to talk about, and easy enough to describe. And so, it should be no surprise that Arbitrary Magic, the game’s developer, has been on my radar.

Unfortunately for me, but very fortunately for gamers as a whole, Roman Sands RE:Build is much harder to discuss and almost impossible to describe. Here, an excerpt from the Steam page:

“ADVENTURE GACHA PUZZLE APOCALYPSE VISUAL NOVEL SIMULATION HORROR TRIP”

Having played the game, this is the most accurate description I’ve ever seen on Steam. And It’s still probably missing a few genre tags and buzzwords. So you see why this might be a bit tricky.

Let me give it a different approach, try to communicate what Roman Sands RE:Build is before I tell you to go wishlist it right now: Roman Sands RE:Build is an experiment in video game narratives and design that I’d put money on being one of the most fascinating and intelligent games released in years. It will hook you. It will engross you. You will need answers. I still need answers, even.

That’s because the game has no compare. In fact, that description earlier was really a half-effort. Let me try another: Roman Sands RE:Build is a psychedelic, vaporwave-fueled puzzle game, where you must answer to the whims of the most insufferable vacationers you’ve seen since Mark Ruffalo’s character in Poor Things. You port their luggage, bring them towels, massage them, make them coffee, prepare them booze, and generally cater to their every want and desire, while never satisfying either. And you must do this every day, over and over, caught in an unending time loop of subservience and island vibes.

roman sands rebuild harold in the bar

Sorry, let me correct myself. One more time: Roman Sands RE:Build is an eerie, occult puzzle game set both during and after the end of the world, where you must race to solve a cascading mystery and its associated puzzles while locked in an endless time loop, all before the sun itself gets “too close”. To do this, you must break through the cracks in the Jungian system and try to make your way out of the ethereal, unreal, pastel-hell resort you find yourself in.

roman sands rebuild something more

Wait. Something isn’t right. I can’t quite get this description down… I’ll try one more time: Roman Sands RE:Build is a sci-fi horror game (without jump scares, at least in the preview) where you must repair a machine in a spooky research station in order to power it up. It sees you piecing together dark machinery, speaking to a soft-spoken but sarcastic voice over the radio, and mourning the death of your cow (It didn’t have to die this way). I don’t know what I was saying about vacations or resorts or vaporwave. That’s silly.

roman sands rebuild computer system

Ah, that isn’t it either, though. As I said, the game is impossible to describe. And I didn’t even get to the Gacha part, or the tentacles (which, yes, are related).

But, though it may be impossible to describe, it couldn’t be more simple to recommend.

The gameplay of Roman Sands RE:Build is simple, but layered. Layered in such a way that turns the disparate simple systems into something complex and bizarre. A work of art, that I am clambering to experience the entirety of.

I don’t mean to talk it up too much. If you are someone who only plays games to unwind after a long day of work and want to play something fun and relaxing, then — more power to you — but this probably doesn’t need to be on your radar. Roman Sands RE:Build is slow, at times repetitive, and extremely deep in its philosophical rabbit-hole. It’s the kind of game I love, but it isn’t for everyone.

If, however, you are someone seeking to be moved and challenged and see the weird side of video games, all packaged in a great aesthetic and presented in a bizarro, low-fi, slightly parodic package, this should really light up your sensors. Already, the first act-and-a-bit I played has me thinking and wanting more, and it will do the same for gamers who want to see really boundary-pushing art.

roman sands rebuild preview screenshot for everything
There’s a lot going on in this game. You should see for yourself.

I only got to play a preview so far, so I can’t say whether the rest of the game will live up to those first few hours. I can’t say whether the themes will land, the characters will have good arcs, the ideas will be fleshed out, or the world will be satisfactorily explained. But what I can say is that I really liked what I got so far. It was smart, without being over-serious. It was artsy, without being pretentious. And, best of all, it was new, without feeling cheap or gimmicky.

We don’t get that a lot, and when we do, it isn’t usually so interesting. Like several other titles published by Serenity Forge — Smile For Me, Lisa: The Painful, and Doki Doki Literature Club chief amongst them — Roman Sands RE:Build (at least as it seems to be right now) should be on the to-play list of anyone who subscribes to the idea of games as art.

You can, and should, wishlist Roman Sands RE:Build on Steam here, and check out the demo whenever you get a chance. My time with the preview has been excellent… Even if hard to describe.

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Graves
Graves

Graves is an avid writer, web designer, and gamer, with more ideas than he could hope to achieve in a lifetime. But, armed with a mug of coffee and an overactive imagination, he'll try. When he isn't working on a creative project, he is painting miniatures, reading cheesy sci-fi novels, or making music.

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