The Real Texas isn’t the kind of game that neatly hands its story over to you. You play as Sam, a modern-day cowboy searching for what it means to be a true cowboy and what it means to find the real Texas. But this is no ordinary tale of the Wild West. Delving into the American landscape with a sense of wonderment, The Real Texas carves its own path, speeding ahead of the familiar stereotypes that we’ve become accustomed to in videogames. This cowboy is on a journey of self discovery — for the real Sam hidden among the archetypes, memories, and dreams that fill the world he finds himself in. But as I played, I found myself right in the middle of my own journey of self-discovery.
According to Calvin French, the game’s sole creator, The Real Texas is described as “an action adventure game that plays like a mashup of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Ultima VI. Sam, an ordinary Texas rancher, is on holiday in England when he falls into a blue portal and lands in The Strange Texas.” While that description gives the player an idea of how the game will play, I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I first stepped into this strange world that French created. So when I first encountered the Minecraft-esque character models, floaty surreal world, and witty, self-aware tone of the writing, I was delightfully surprised.
The Real Texas starts out like a faint dream that you can’t quite get your mind around. In fact, the game’s intentionally sloppy MS Paint-style interface and lack of a quest log make the experience unquestionably distant at first. Whether you’re wading through the wonky dialogue trees or the unorthodox combat system, it’s not until you stumble upon the main village until things start to feel vaguely familiar (meaning Zelda-esque). But once you gain your balance with the mechanics, The Real Texas isn’t afraid to the pull the rug from beneath your feet, leaving you with a whole new set of questions about the reality of your surroundings — and that is where the game really takes off.
Your main character, the gun-slinging Texan who usually is referred to simply as “Cowboy”, appears to be stuck in a purgatory of some kind where elements of the real and the surreal stand side by side. In this strange world you’ll be dealing with a diverse set of characters and situations: helping a piano-playing wife who thinks her husband is a little too love-stricken to raise their kids or wrestling a maniacal German wizard who has an affinity for terrorizing the townsfolk from a castle he has trapped himself in. Part Wes Anderson and part Terry Pratchett, The Real Texas‘ writing holds its cards close and probes you to ask serious questions as much as it offers humorous answers.
As I tried to put the pieces of the story together, I could feel the game forcing me to remember the opening scenes of the game and figure out how Sam got to this mysterious limbo-land. I love that The Real Texas allowed me to discover things myself and have to remember things myself. So often, game developers rely on cinematics and walls of text to tell a player that something important is happening. “Look here!” “Watch this cinematic so that you remember what happened and connect the dots!” Instead, The Real Texas leaves that responsibility to the player — an experience more akin to watching a movie like Inception for the first time. It’s constantly one step ahead of you as it blurs the lines between dreams and reality.
But my favorite thing about about diving into an indie game like The Real Texas is the journey of self-discovery that the game allows you to be a part of yourself. As Sam travels through visions and dreams of his life, the game lets you tag along and find some self-revelation of your own. The Real Texas reminded me vividly of some of my favorite past game experiences. So much so that discovering what the game is really all about felt like a journey into my own past and memories. Like the very best stories, the emotions, concepts, and plot lines in The Real Texas are as much about people like Calvin French and myself as it is about the characters in the game.