The Gap is a tragic trip through mystery and memory

Posted on October 24, 2023

Fragments of memories lead you through parallel universes in The Gap, a new narrative adventure from Slovenia-based developer Label This. The game takes a real-life scientific theory of “quantum jumping” and builds a story around harnessing déjà vu to travel across space and time. This forms the core of The Gap’s core narrative mystery, but it’s the tragic ramifications of such an ability on the protagonist’s life and family that take centre stage.

The Gap sees you playing as neuroscientist Joshua, who in trying to unearth a medical breakthrough has had his own memory messed with. Playing as Joshua sees you exploring different pockets of space and time to gather memories. You explore the environment in first person, searching Joshua’s home and uncovering more details about his family and what has happened to them. Examining an item may trigger a memory, which transports you into a different scene where you’ll usually unlock a small clue about the game’s overarching mystery. Memory scenes are depicted as fragmented, incomplete chunks of a world – the edges of each environment eke into a black void, and any humans you encounter are shown as blurred, shadowy outlines.

In addition to discovering memories, certain items trigger déjà vu, taking you to a parallel reality that takes place in a different year. These show Joshua’s home at the time, giving you snippets of his and his wife Amber’s lives, from meeting in college to raising their daughter. Each reality has its own memories and items to discover, often looping back into other realities and giving broader context for events you’ve already seen.

The navigation between reality and memory forms the crux of The Gap’s gameplay. You’ll be exploring each environment and piecing together the threads of Joshua’s life. There’s some light puzzle-solving involved as well, with most of the memory sequences requiring you to complete a particular action. A code found scribbled down in one reality may be a computer’s password in another. These small puzzles also help familiarise yourself with Joshua’s relationships. One memorable puzzle has you scouring the world for details about what colour bunny to pick for Joshua’s daughter for Christmas, while another has you listening out for quantities of medication to pick up from the store. The game thankfully lets you know when you haven’t yet discovered the solution to a puzzle, helping you avoid wasting time guessing.

This also means that you’ll see a puzzle early on and remember it much later when you find something related to its solution. It feels intentionally designed to play with the game’s core themes of memory and put you in Joshua’s shoes – he’s trying to discover his past alongside you. You gradually get an idea of what Joshua’s life was like before his decline and build empathy with his struggle to remember.

The Gap doesn’t shy away from heavy topics. Over the course of the story, you’ll encounter narratives around terminal illness, self harm, substance abuse, and suicide. The effects of Joshua’s condition on his family are explored in depth in both the memory scenes and the game’s environmental storytelling: you’ll find pictures of a happy family in Joshua’s daughter’s room in early realities, but in future realities his face will be scratched out in the same image.

Joshua and Amber’s relationship is depicted as antagonistic and frustrated. Even the more romantic memories see them disagreeing and lightly bickering, which does take some of the dramatic weight out of their more significant arguments. You’re left wondering what has kept them together through the years, with even the memory of their wedding day feeling stressful. It’s incredibly tragic to reflect that these are the memories that Joshua has kept of his relationship with Amber. Whether intentional on the part of the creators or not, it’s a sad reality for the character that their harshest words and most tragic moments are all that remain in his memory of the love of his life.

It takes around three hours to play through The Gap, with a few achievements available that hint at different possible outcomes for its ending. It’s a tragic journey that doesn’t outstay its welcome, using the unique traits of the gaming medium to explore some pretty intense topics and tell a sad tale. The Gap is available now for PC and consoles.