What is it? A first person puzzler/stealth game where you're the last human worker left at a far-future Amazon-style warehouse.
Expect to pay $20/£16
Release date March 30, 2023
Developer Oiffy, Wolf & Wood
Publisher Wired Productions
Reviewed on Core i5 12600K, RTX 3070, 32 GB RAM
I went into The Last Worker expecting some kind of deeply political, capital-'I' Important game. Best case scenario: something really pressing or moving for the current moment, a daring artistic statement like Disco Elysium or Norco. Worst case: a preachy polemic about this "late capitalism" thing people are always posting about then patting themselves on the back for having noticed. I instead found a forbidden, third thing: a breezy, charming caper with a broad anti-corporate theme, anchored by stealth and puzzle solving gameplay centered around a six degrees of freedom hovercraft.
The Last Worker is a fun, short, narrative puzzle game, something I'm always glad to play, but not an exemplar of the genre. You assume the role of Kurt, a 25-year veteran of the Amazon-alike Jüngle corporation who, through bureaucratic oversight, has outlasted wave after wave of automation-driven layoffs to be the literal last human worker sorting packages in a Manhattan-sized fulfillment center. As a note: this game is sold as fully playable both in and out of VR, and I only had the opportunity to review the flat panel version before launch.
That package sorting is one of two main gameplay loops in The Last Worker. Using a compass projected from Kurt's hovercraft, you have to fly through the facility to your next package, check it for damage, weight discrepancies, or other errors, then deliver it to either "recycling" or fulfillment chutes accordingly. I was very excited by this mechanic—it has the sort of "gotcha" trolling capacity as Papers, Please's bureacratic battles: "Oh, you thought this box was fine because it was undamaged and the correct weight? You moron! You forgot to check the size!"
This is a really fun setup, but I don't think it ever reaches its full potential during the game's runtime. You're introduced to the basic concepts, with more variables and complications added as you progress, but it never reaches a satisfying climax where everything you've learned comes into play. Similarly, I never felt in danger of failing to meet my quotas. I think the Last Worker could have used a difficulty slider to reduce your allotted time and increase the amount of curveballs it throws you.
There are two sequences where you have to balance secondary objectives while doing your basic rounds, and these felt real juicy. In one, you have to keep your quota up while slyly sabotaging company robots on the side, and that structure of accomplishing your activist goals within a shift's time limit while not letting your company metrics slip briefly led to a real high of frantic, sweaty, memorable gameplay. As it stands, you only get a taste of that in The Last Worker, a glimpse at what its unique timed puzzle solving could be. It's pretty easy to sabotage the three robots, while it's practically a challenge to not have a perfect Jüngle score at any given moment.
The Last Worker's other main gameplay pillar, some arcadey stealth in the fulfillment center's back rooms, better realizes the potential of its concept. The Jüngle corp's patrol bots have definite cones of vision and clearly defined patrol routes they do not deviate from, making stealth entirely a question of observation and timing. The Last Worker mixes it up with added challenges or sub-objectives, with one memorable sequence requiring you to complete two hacking puzzles at opposite ends of a patrol route in a time limit.
My big complaint with the stealth is that I wish the hovercraft's verticality had been leveraged more here. Your six degrees of freedom are well catered-to in the warehouse work portions, which make you fly up and down massive stacks of boxes to find your packages, while most of the stealth portions could be pretty easily replicated with your boots on the ground. There is one set piece where you descend through a silo, avoiding bots' circular patrol routes at each level. This bit spoke to the potential of spatial hovercraft sneaking, but was sadly a one-off occurrence.
At the risk of spoiling too much, The Last Worker kinda does the Bioshock Infinite thing where the rebels are actually a bunch of greedy assholes and both sides are bad. Your mileage may vary on how much of a bummer that is (I was grumbling), but overall the game's story and characters are fun and a good hang. It's more straightforward than I expected: I clocked the lone twist pretty quickly, and The Last Worker could be a bit too eager to explain its jokes. At one point a character mockingly intones, "How could Mr. Jüngle not be progressive, he has rainbow hair!" Thanks, but I kinda picked up on the bit just seeing the coiffure in question.
Jason Isaacs' turn as your little robot buddy is a treat though, and whenever I hear the guy talk I'm reminded of his role as Soviet General Zhukov in The Death of Stalin, which is a huge plus for me. I'm also a fan of the holographic product previews you see after a successful delivery: almost all of them are Simpsonsesque puns and sight gags, with my favorite being a "Grizzly Man Action Figure" featuring a wee Werner Herzog holding a tiny bear.
I enjoyed my time with The Last Worker—I think it's well-priced at $20, and it's a kind of game I'm always happy to see more of: short, contained, and mechanically distinct. At the end of the day though, it just doesn't hit the same highs as, say, last year's fantastic Scorn, and doesn't deliver the poignancy of other, similarly overtly political games like Disco Elysium, Norco, or Night in the Woods.