The Real Texas is a game by a Canadian about a Texan in England, and also simultaneously Texas (again) and Britannia. This is a game that blends the early Ultima games with Zelda, and more than a dash of Earthbound-esque whimsy. It is a game that exists not for you, but simply because its creator willed it to be. This is probably one of the weirdest indie releases of 2012, and in this little ol’ review, I’m going to tell you why you should give it a little of your time.
In The Real Texas, you play as a modern-day Cowboy (capitalized, of course) who has gotten tired of the desk-jockeying and paperwork that make up modern day life, so you’ve gone off on a vacation to an old English castle for a change of pace. As soon as the game has given you your basic movement controls, and put your teetering avatar in your hands, you’re tasked with that mightiest of quests: paying for a parking ticket. And here’s where one of the many strange little stars of the show turns up; a text parser.
Sure, you can get through most things just by clicking on dialogue and action options when interacting with people and objects, but there’s always that handy little text-box below that lets you try whatever you like. Granted, most things won’t result in anything of note, but you’re free to lick or kick anything or anyone you come across, and it’s often worth doing it just for the hell of it. There’s always the chance of stumbling upon a hidden dialogue option or method of interaction, and in this game, experimentation is key. There’s very little hand-holding, and even fewer hints. You’re expected to think for yourself, observe, fight when you have to and act like a cowboy should.
The game kicks off shortly afterwards, as you fall through a strange glowing portal to the slightly off-kilter land of ‘Strange, Texas’, a realm where JRPG slimes roam the prairies, witches hand out six-shooters, bandits run illicit chicken cutlet smuggling rings, and fast-travel is achieved by touching pictures of naked ladies. It feels like Earthbound, but a little more grown-up and filtered through the lens of 90s PC gaming. There’s no quest log, and no flashing objective marker. You’ll bump into folks who might ask you a favour or two, because helping out is what a real cowboy does, after all, but you’re never explicitly told what to do and how to do it.
The world of Strange, Texas really is the heart of the game. It’s somewhere that’s fun to explore. The locals are an off-beat bunch from various places and times, and are all aware of just how weird their world is but are content enough to live in it. After a while, you may well be, too. There’s adventuring to be done, of course. There’s gunfights to win and treasures to be found, but they feel almost tangential to the process of exploring and interacting with the world. In fact, combat is probably the weakest element of the game. It can be initially quite frustrating, as your starting weapon has limited range, but also recoil that pushes you further back – a limitation that is compounded by being unable to run and shoot at the same time. It’s possible to die very easily, as enemies can repeatedly stun you with little way to evade, but death isn’t such a big deal anyway. Time and Space are gentle lovers, and will offer to take you back (to the previous screen) if you die, with minimal taxation.
As you can see from the screenshots and videos, The Real Texas is a game with an aesthetic almost entirely its own. Scrawled hand-drawn graphics and abstract, blocky characters work well here, giving just enough detail to let you see what they’re meant to be, and simple enough to let you project the finer details onto them. The soundtrack helps complete the atmosphere – it’s full of lilting melodies that sound familiar, but at the same time new, all delivered through slightly warbling synths. It’s a classic, retro RPG soundtrack with a dash of something slightly different, perfectly fitting the gameplay and aesthetic. It’s low-fi, but that’s just fine – a cowboy doesn’t ask for, nor need, more.
The Real Texas is like Earthbound – a quirky, easygoing bit of RPG design and storytelling. It’s like Ultima – a wide-open RPG world that expects you to live or die by your own choices and freedom to roam. It’s like Zelda – a focused action-adventure full of dungeons to explore, bosses to conquer, essential gear to collect and a day to save. But in the end, The Real Texas is like nothing else I’ve played. There’s little bits and fragments of other games and other concepts here, but nothing else quite looks, sounds, feels and plays like this. There’s still some bugs and rough edges to be found, but the developer is currently hard at work fixing, tuning and patching the game. Even with the occasional rough edge, The Real Texas is worth a look if you’ve ever liked an RPG of any kind. Like the trailer above sagely tells us, we’re all cowboys now.
The Real Texas is available to buy direct from the developer for Windows, Mac & Linux. Normally $15, the game is currently on sale for $8, although that price will go up soon.
[review pros="Easy-going RPG that'll charm your pants off; removable pants; cute style; memorable music; great writing; no hand-holding" cons="Easy to get lost/stuck; occasionally frustrating combat; Parser could do with a few more generic options" score=82]