We go hands-on with The Gap – a first-person sci-fi adventure with a complex plot worthy of author Philip K Dick.
In the array of sci-fi novels American author Philip K Dick wrote over his 30-year career, his protagonists often found themselves in worlds where nothing could be taken for granted – where humans might be machines in disguise, where memories or even reality itself is a fiction. The Gap, an upcoming first-person sci-fi adventure from Slovenian developer Label This, offers up a psychological maze that Philip K Dick would probably have appreciated.
It takes place from the perspective of neuroscientist Joshua Hayes – a distinctly Phildickian protagonist whose memory loss leads him on a journey through his own dark, tragic past. Hayes wakes up one day in his sleek apartment with no recollection of his past life – the various photos dotted around the walls and bits of ephemera provide the only evidence of a happy family, now seemingly vanished.
It’s as you explore the apartment and interact with its contents that The Gap’s complexity soon becomes clear. Picking up certain objects will trigger memories, which are themselves 3D spaces that are filled with items you can pick up and examine. Some are incidental, only filling in small clues about your past life; others are more pivotal, and will themselves contain memories you can jump into and wander around.
The Gap therefore offers an inter-connected maze of memories, and progress is made even more challenging thanks to some quite intricate puzzles that require careful study of what initially seems like incidental background information. There are mobile phones with password protection you’ll need to somehow unlock.
One memory I stumbled into required me to sit in a lecturer hall and fill in an exam paper. It was only at this point that I realised all the various scientific papers I’d been casually rifling through without properly reading were pivotal to passing the exam. Fortunately, someone from Label This was on hand to very patiently guide me through the answers. Yes, dear reader, I cheated on an exam.
Puzzles such as these are an example of the developer’s distinctly old-school approach to The Gap’s game design. Where so many modern games constantly keep you on course with hints and on-screen prompts, The Gap places you in its futuristic, fragmented world and leaves you to make sense of it for yourself.
It’s a brave approach, and occasionally a confounding one; a kind of evidence board in your apartment helps you to keep track of what you have and haven’t unlocked, but it’s still sometimes easy to become lost in the game’s Matryoshka doll-like web of nested realities. As one developer told us, it’s advisable to play The Gap with a paper and pen handy.
This isn’t to say that The Gap isn’t without its lighter moments. One memory involves holding a phone conversation while simultaneously frying burgers on a stove and at the same time keeping an eye on a tray of chips cooking in the oven. It’s a cooking mini-game, essentially, and offers a disarming contrast to the weightier themes found elsewhere.
As you pick through the detritus of Hayes’ past life, it becomes clear that something tragic has happened. As a scientist whose family has long been beset by a rare disease that causes memory loss, you gradually learn that your past self – along with a mysterious company called Neuraxis – was attempting to find a cure. And somewhere along the way, something went dreadfully wrong.
The Gap largely takes place in multiple iterations of the same spaces, whether it’s Hayes’ apartment or a futuristic research facility, but Label This finds smart, often disturbing ways of furthering the plot through background details. The plush design of Hayes’ apartment speaks to a once comfortable, cosy family life. The empty bottles of booze and broken photo frames indicate how it all may have unravelled.
Like Philip K Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly, you play a detective investigating yourself. And, just like a Philip K Dick novel, The Gap leaves you questioning everything. Are the memories you’re experiencing accurate, or somehow skewed by Neuraxis’ experiments? Is Hayes a murderer? Can you even be sure the body you’re inhabiting is actually Hayes?
The half an hour or so we spent with The Gap points to a bleak and narratively dense sci-fi adventure, and its complexity may not be for everyone. But based on what we’ve experienced so far, we’re fascinated to journey further into the maze, and find out what answers await us at the end of it.