One of the many benefits of an independently published game is the freedom it allows developers — there are more opportunities to try new things when the people making a game are unrestrained by the demands of investors and shareholders. The Real Texas is a glowing example of the results of this kind of freedom, a game miles away from anything found on store shelves.
Created by Calvin French of Kitty Lambda Games, The Real Texas features a fairly even mix between adventure game-style puzzle solving and dungeon-crawling combat. The puzzles are consistently challenging and rewarding, with the solutions never impossibly difficult to decipher. Unfortunately the combat system is not quite as satisfying, and can become quite frustrating when dealing with certain enemies.
However, what really makes the game shine is the writing, which manages to expertly straddle the line between absurd humour and touching poignancy. The plot follows a disgruntled Texan who takes a vacation to an English castle to escape his dreary office job. Soon after arriving, he discovers the castle is eerily abandoned, with an ominous blue portal hanging in the centre of the main hall. Through the portal lies the town of Strange — a Kafkaesque purgatory that appears to be a mix between modern-day Texas and medieval England.
Yet, despite Strange being so bizarre, the inhabitants of the small town are surprisingly normal. Their problems, which range from a man struggling with past heartbreak to parents trying to connect with their rebellious son, all feel very real and relatable, and serve to normalize the eccentricities of the realm they inhabit. Soon enough, one begins to question what is real and what is fantasy, as the lines between reality of the castle and the impossibility of Strange begin to blur. Issues of metaphysics and morality are discussed as wizards turn into giant monkeys and aliens plead for you to find their TV. It all amounts to a very surreal and thoughtful experience.
The aesthetics in The Real Texas are simple but charming, with characters and environments rendered in a cute, blocky style that fits the tone of the game perfectly. Likewise, the music features a mix of simple yet charming retro melodies. Notably, the game has essentially zero noticeable bugs, due to an extended development period French used to polish the game to perfection.
Although its surreal atmosphere and unconventional gameplay mechanics may not appeal to all, The Real Texas is packed with enough humour and personality to make it worth the time of anyone who wants to take a vacation from the ordinary.