What's real? What's not? Is this world an illusion, a mass hallucination in which we all share? Or are we just somebody shadow, a single entity who lives only for themselves, followed by all of us who want to exist...?
Damned if I know. But Thoreau is something along those lines. Plus monsters and traps.
I must admit, I'm not ENTIRELY sure what's going on in Thoreau. As far as I can tell you're a shadowy man with shadowy hair who, through a serious misstep, has been plunged into the earth - and now you're dogged by traps, a mysterious monster and a strange inverted version of yourself. All you have is your wits and your ears, and the hope that you'll emerge alive.
Oh, yeah, and some weird sight power that can crumble incoming and reveal hidden problems. That's important too.
The story's kinda cryptic, but at its bare bones Thoreau is a platformer. You need to survive by moving through an underground course filled with traps, all hidden in the darkness, using your sight to identify things that might kill you before they, y'know... kill you.
Thoreau's controls are okay at times and problematic at others. Like most survival horror games - and I would argue that this is survival horror, at least a touch, as it doesn't try to make things easy for you: you're a limited, fragile human who will die rather easily. You need to plan your movements and jumps carefully if you're to survive this nightmare. I had no huge issues with the controls, though they were problematic when stacked against the game's sometimes questionable hit detection.
Say what you want about the rest of the game, but Thoreau is pretty. That's an odd thing to say, too, because it relies heavily on darkness to set the scene, meaning you won't see a hell of a lot while playing - but when light DOES pierce the cavern, it's used quite nicely. For example, fire:
Light isn't always dangerous, however - indeed, it's vital to your survival, as you use the game's many light sources as both save points and as recharging stations for your sight power, a necessity for beating Thoreau. Overall, good use of the monochrome, especially in covering up the game's otherwise fairly basic character models.
Here's the biggie. Though light and vision do play critical roles in surviving Thoreau, sound is HUGE. There's very little music in the game: most of the time you're traveling in silence, and when you do hear something, it usually means a trap is coming. The spring of an arrow, the crumble of rocks, the growl of some horrid beastie... regardless of the sound in question it's essential to keep your volume up, 'cause you'll have little warning otherwise and probably waste your sight power identifying harmless corridors. Sound also provides most of the game's heart-pounding moments, changing Thoreau from an annoying platformer into a mildly suspenseful experience.
Thoreau isn't a difficult game. You can probably beat it in twenty minutes, 'cause you'll learn where the traps are in a hurry and be able to react accordingly.
The problem with this game's challenge rating lies in, as mentioned above, its hit detection. It's really easy to die by accident by straying a little too closely to a trap, to the point that you'll die for stupid reasons - for example, walking up to a rock trap that's already been triggered, and SHOULD be harmless. I believe the programmer is planning on changing that in later releases, but even with that removed you're bound to die some questionable deaths in Thoreau.
Will they stop you from beating the game? Probably not. Still. It's a more irritating experience than it should be, because you're dying not from a lack of skill, but because the game is inherently cheap in some respects. Shrug?
Thoreau is an okay game. The premise is intriguing, if apparently done before - I'll have to try out this Limbo game people keep comparing it to on Newgrounds - and the execution is decent, given that the game was created in four days. Worth a try at least once, though I guarantee it will annoy some gamers into submission.