A dire future
The Last Worker gives a unique perspective within the dystopian genre: a warehouse delivery employee for a monolithic organization. As the title suggests, you’re the last person that hasn’t been fired from this vital organization. Robots have replaced nearly everyone else at the company. However, as you find secrets about the shadowy owner, you’re thrust into an investigation that can change the world forever.
With a concept like this, The Last Worker thankfully nails the storytelling with a thought-provoking script and impactful performances all around. Somehow, the developers Oiffy and Wolf & Wood Interactive make the act of organizing boxes entertaining, but with a time limit, it can feel frustratingly sluggish to control the character’s levitating seat.
The Last Worker (PS5 [reviewed without PSVR2 headset], PC, Xbox Series X/S, Switch]
Developer: Oiffy, Wolf & Wood Interactive
Publisher: Wired Productions
Released: March 30
The core theme of The Last Worker is how capitalism can be a threat to society if given too much power. Through second-hand accounts from the characters you meet, you’ll learn basic healthcare is only for the elite, and millions are dying as the Earth spirals out of control. The story is deep and provides an engaging narrative throughout as the protagonist, Kurt, struggles to stay with the status quo or stand up against his boss.
To stay off unemployment, Kurt has to keep shipping out those packages. Players will guide him around the warehouse to pick up packages he’ll throw into tubes that transport each one to its destination. It doesn’t sound that exciting at first glance, but with a time limit in place and the need to place packages in the right section, there’s a lot to figure out. In one day of work, you’ll want to send as many boxes to their designated area as possible. Otherwise, you’ll lose.
While performing this task, you’ll look for key details like the size and weight of the box. You’ll also need to detect if it’s damaged or if the product inside is expired, as those need to be sent to a rejection station. Similar to a game like Papers, Please, you’re looking for key details. Making the decision of accepting the box or dismissing it is quite a kick. Your score will lessen if you incorrectly deal with the box. If you get an F, you’ll be fired, making you restart the level.
Checking each element of the box under a time limit is actually thrilling. You have to spin it around, gaze at every side of the package, and make sure everything is correct. If damaged or incorrectly labeled, you tag it before returning it to the warehouse. The developers add new elements to the gameplay loop the further you get into the narrative, making this process entertaining throughout its six to eight-hour playtime. It’s also entertaining to see what’s inside the package; the items can be very bizarre, but they can also point out what’s happening in the outside world.
It will get repetitive at times as you go to the same location over and over, but that is likely the intention in The Last Worker. Kurt has been performing this job for 25 years, and toward the latter half of the narrative, he is reaching his absolute limit. Twisting each box, messing with your equipment, and racing to get as many products shipped, despite being tired, reflects what an average warehouse employee goes through every day.
Unfortunately, the delivery process suffers from laggy controls. Movements feel sluggish, and having a cooldown to your sprinting motion is frustrating. Aiming is tedious as well as many of my packages fell to the aether below during the opening hours of the game. Despite these issues, I did get used to the awkward controls. As a result, I enjoyed my time as a delivery worker for Jüngle later on in the game. You also have to consider that you’re playing as an overweight, older man with a walking stick while the robots are fast and efficient. Perhaps that is the reason why the movement is slow. It could be intentional.
One issue that does come up is the lack of direction the game gives you sometimes. Your guidance system doesn’t tell you where to go at points, leading to some frustrating moments. After finishing the last delivery level in the game, you’re left wandering the halls in silence. It doesn’t give you any pointers on where to go, and for a long time, I thought the game was bugged. I restarted the level, only to realize there was a broken wall you needed to be near to activate the next part of the game. More functional UI or some pointers during these odd moments would be beneficial.
Be Sam “Deliver” Fisher
Another key element of The Last Worker is its stealth sections. Similar to a game like Beyond Good & Evil, you’re sneaking through restricted areas, finding out what really goes on behind the scenes. As you’re investigating key areas of the factory, you’ll have to maneuver around robots that are scanning the area and protecting valuable resources like medication.
Finding hidden spots, waiting until the opportune moment, and then sneaking from place to place, such as through a tunnel, is exciting in The Last Worker. You have to use some patience to get through these levels. The developers do throw you a bone as you get one EMP blast per checkpoint; you can use it to take out one enemy to make the process a little easier for you. There’s also a Hacking Tool mini-game that unlocks doors and safes.
The stealth levels are well-made and will need your noggin to work through. They add a nice change of pace to the overall gameplay of The Last Worker. Still, there are sluggish controls, but once again, you’ll get used to them. At the end of each stealth section, there’s usually a valuable resource that the protagonist needs, like medicine for his long-lost wife.
An excellent cast
What helps bring The Last Worker‘s story together is the script and performances from the cast. The characters in the game have well-rounded personalities, and you want to root for them. Their interactions sound natural, and there is wonderful humor spread throughout that lightens up the dystopian setting. The script delivers the powerful message of standing up to capitalism at the right moments perfectly.
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The Meg, True Detective) delivers a powerful performance as Kurt. His sarcasm and “dad humor” is naturally delivered. When he’s suffering, you can truly hear it in his voice. His robotic companion Skew, played by Jason Isaacs (Castlevania, The Patriot), is another memorable character as he curses and makes charming jokes towards the protagonist. Skew is an endearing robot you want to protect at all costs. You can tell the two friends are inseparable from their performances. Zelda Williams (The Legend of Korra, Were The World Mine) also plays a role that matches perfectly with the rest of the cast and helps give the emotional weight The Last Worker needs.
Unfortunately, those fine performances can’t quite save The Last Worker from ending on a sour note. There are three different options available to you from what I’ve played. Without going into detail, the true ending is undesirable. You don’t get the payoff you’re hoping for, as it’s way too short. The other two endings juxtapose each other and make you scratch your head. In addition, there are some lines of dialogue that are repeated over and over and over again, pulling you out of the experience.
A unique art style
Judge Dredd comics artist Mick McMahon is behind the striking art style in The Last Worker, and it shows. Within these cel-shaded graphics are some striking facial lines, impactful environmental imagery, and a darker take on beloved characters like Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog within packages. It really pops on the screen and illustrates the dire, yet colorful tone The Last Worker is going for. It’s a shame I couldn’t experience this game in VR with PSVR2.
A well-crafted tale
Despite a few issues with the controls, The Last Worker is a riveting 6-to-8-hour narrative experience. Sorting each box as a pseudo-employee is surprisingly entertaining, and the characters are endearing. There are also twists and turns in the storyline that will keep you gripped throughout this journey, at least until the endings start to play out. With the gorgeous visuals by Mick McMahon, fun gameplay, and meaningful script, I’d happily recommend The Last Worker. You just need to struggle through the awkward controls and some confusing game design.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]