STAFF REVIEW of Gap, The (Xbox Series X)

Saturday, January 13, 2024.
by Peggy Doyle

Gap, The Box art I am starting this review with a lesson. When starting a new game that you know nothing about, pay attention to what happens on the starting screen. The Gap starts with a trigger warning, which I missed while doing other things as I was booting up the game. This came back and smacked me in the face later on, so much so that I restarted the game to ensure it had a trigger warning before writing this or reaching out to the developers, Label This, to ask about one. I won’t be referencing the specifics of how they relate to the story in the review to avoid spoilers, but I wanted to mention it.

“This game contains references to topics such as suicide and trauma which some players may find disturbing.”

The game starts in the middle of a domestic argument between Joshua Hayes and his wife Amber, where she has begged him for the last time to stop chasing a cure he’ll never find, and spend time being there for his family. She leaves with their daughter, and we’re left in a room with broken photos and memories.

The Gap is the first game from the two-person developer team, Label This, and is published by Crunching Koalas. It’s a narrative walking simulator that invites us to follow brilliant neuroscientist Joshua's journey in search of a cure for a hereditary illness that affects his family. This is a genetic disease that destroys memories, Huntington’s Chorea, and he agrees to take part in an experimental trial that uses neurocognitive nanobots they think will cure these diseases of the brain. It’s an intriguing and engaging story that explores his memories, and while finding clues scattered around, will trigger even more memories for him. From the beginning you’re told you need two clues to unlock a memory, but as you’re wandering and looking at things you can never be too sure which two are connected.

These memories will take place over different timelines and points in the family’s life. This is a dynamic that fans of sci-fi like me will enjoy, a little bit of time travelling. As you travel through different timelines you’ll see different variations of your apartment, similar yet different. Sometimes the photos on the wall have changed, or the décor in your daughter's room, or there are now pills on the counter in the bathroom. This isn’t an easy narrative game, either in the emotional weight or the puzzle solving, and takes a bit of thinking while navigating. Finding which clues you need to unlock the next memories can be slightly puzzling, but everything you need is there in some form or another. If you find a laptop, you might need to locate the password. If you have a phone to unlock, you’ll need the pin. I enjoyed the puzzles immensely.

Any walking simulator game shows that it’s not the gameplay or even the objective of reaching the end that is important, it’s the path and the journey you take to get there. There are multiple clues and memories that you can discover in The Gap that aren’t directly connected to your main timeline but are equally interesting in filling in the back and side stories of characters and memories. If you take the time to discover everything, you’ll walk away with the full picture given to us.

There is a lot of medical information and research presented in The Gap and the developers have said that “Although this game uses some scientific theories, facts and medical conditions, they may have been adjusted or changed for storytelling purposes.” This again, was on the same screen as the trigger warning, so I missed it. I don’t regret missing this though, as it gave me more time to question things through the game. Wondering what would happen next, what Joshua should or will do, what was really happening when he heard his friends talking to him and what I would do in his situation.

The Gap will not give you a solid answer to all of these questions, and I finished the game with so many questions. Again, I can’t speak to some of those without spoiling parts of the story. You do come to find out that the experimental nanobot treatment Joshua has been involved in has ultimately affected his brain and memories and he can’t even trust himself anymore. Are his memories real, or is he actually able to slip into alternate realities/timelines as he suspects? Will these alternate timelines create a place where the disease doesn’t exist for the family member? The story takes twists and turns.

It’s the story of a family shattered by life events that slowly unravels in front of you on the screen. It’s meant to stir your emotions and it was incredibly successful in that regard. Depending on your life experiences you will likely look at this game in a variety of ways. As someone who has lost a spouse, a father and other family members to a variety of serious illnesses, The Gap hit harder than I suspect it would for someone without those shared experiences. Sympathy, empathy, happiness, joy, heartbreak, guilt, etc. They are all part of the emotional journey Label This took me on in the approximately six hours it took me to play through The Gap. There are two endings to the game based on your choices as well.

Since The Gap is a narrative walking simulator, the characters, design, and environments are minimalistic in design, although each area is full of life. Without being too bogged down with extremely detailed characters and environments, we are forced to pay closer attention to the characters and how they act and interact in the spaces. Since you are looking for clues in each area, it’s good that each room is small with not a lot of details obscuring what’s important.

I will recommend playing The Gap with headphones. Since, like the graphics, the soundtrack is minimalistic and in the background most of the time, it does vary between scenes and does change when you are presented with emotional moments in the game. The voice acting is superb, and I love the conversations hanging in the air as if they are also memories of forgotten people.

Very few games are smart. Some are clever, sure, but few are truly smart. Defining The Gap as a walking simulator seems too simple. You’re solving puzzles, cracking PC codes, listening to voicemails – all while visiting memories within memories. I played through the entire game in one sitting and then sat thinking about it for a few days before I wrote this. I questioned everything I saw, heard, and thought. Questioned my own memories of what I played at times, so I played it again, even knowing the endings.

The Gap is fully left open to interpretation, but the developers have posted their intent for the game, and that can be found online. After I wrote this, I went to see their intent, and I was happy to see that some things I thought to be the truth were their intent, even though it wasn’t obvious in the game at first. This would be a huge spoiler if I spoke about it here, but I’m happy to have that conversation with anyone who reaches out.

There are few certainties in life; We live, and we die. Everything else in the middle is uncertain. The Gap did a wonderful job at taking me on an emotional roller coaster and although it’s a dark and complex game, it was so well done that I’m still thinking about it days later. I hope more people play this game and I can’t wait to see what Label This does next.

**The Gap was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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