With big releases like Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor now in the rearview mirror, we've found some time to look back into our ever-growing backlog of games. In there, we found a game called The Last Worker, which launched back in March and really piqued our interest at the time.
When we first tried the title, at a preview event that also showcased the PSVR 2 headset, we were impressed by its comic book aesthetic and multitasking gameplay. We also interviewed Jason Isaacs about the release — he plays your robot companion — which he described as "clearly insane".
Although we've dabbled in the PSVR version, we found ourselves being able to fit in the Nintendo Switch edition a lot easier (thanks to some recent long journeys). We're glad that we found the time to play the game to completion, even seeing all three of its endings, but there's no avoiding the fact that we found it to be a bit of a mixed bag.
To start on a positive note, we thought the overarching story and the central concept were really strong. Writer and director Jörg Tittel has created a world that feels refreshingly unique but also grimly relevant, and he isn't afraid to push it in interesting directions.
You play as Kurt (voiced with charming grumpiness by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), the last human worker in a huge retail warehouse that some might argue is reminiscent of certain real-life commercial giants. To begin with, Kurt is a simple man doing a simple job.
You fly around in a little ship, pick up parcels, tag them appropriately and try to drop them off in the correct tubes. Nearby, silent robots are quietly doing the same job with a lot more efficiency. The tone is dark yet playful, with Kurt constantly trading barbs with his robot companion Skew (voiced with a thick Scouse accent by Isaacs).
This core gameplay loop, working through Kurt's shifts, is a fun way to kill some time. As you gradually master the job, you'll find yourself spotting faulty parcels from a mile off and earning better ranks at the end of each shift. But, as you might have guessed, things do eventually take a dark turn.
Jüngle, the multinational company at the heart of the game, has some skeletons in its closet, and it's not too long before Kurt is approached by activists to try and take down the corporate machine from deep within the means of production. In an age where some game developers don't want their games to be defined as 'political', it's great to see a game that actually has something to say.
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However, as the game moves away from shift work and aims for various other forms of gameplay, it did become frustrating for us. We found it admirable that the game tried to cram in so many ideas — there are stealth segments, shooter segments and even bits where you remotely control Skew through a series of tunnels — but the experience of playing through the game often felt more annoying than it did fun.
The game is often combat-free, meaning that if you get caught by an enemy robot, you will instantly be killed and sent back to your previous checkpoint. And when we say instantly, we mean instantly. One second of being seen is enough, which gets frustrating fast. And, on top of that, some of the checkpoints are quite far apart, so you could find yourself playing the same infuriating segment again and again.
If the game had difficulty options, that would have helped. Or if it didn't put such strict limits on when you can and can't use your gun, that might have reduced the annoyance factor as well. Or if there was an option to bonk a robot on the head and go back into hiding, rather than triggering a death animation every time you're seen, that would've been a game-changer for us.
There were numerous points where we considered closing the game and not finishing it, but the story kept sucking us back in. We wanted to see where Kurt ended up, we wanted to bring down Jüngle, and we wanted to hear every line of dialogue from the game's stellar cast (David Hewlett and Clare-Hope Ashitey both do great work, as do Ólafsson and Isaacs, although Isaacs might not be in it as much as you're expecting).
The pulpy visual style of the game is also really engaging and kept us coming back. Comic book legend Mike McMahon (Judge Dredd, 2000 AD) helped design concepts for the game, and the developers from Oiffy and Wolf & Wood Interactive have done a good job of bringing them to life as 3D environments with lots of verticality. And as the icing on the cake, the soundtrack by Oliver Kraus is really strong as well.
As we reached the game's final act, we were pleasantly surprised to find a last-minute branching narrative that let you choose what happens at the very end. Lots of games don't give players that luxury anymore, and it was a very welcome twist in the tale.
The story wrapped up well, and there was some awesome music over the credits, but that doesn't change the fact that we got quite annoyed along the way. Maybe that's part of the political statement, though?
The Last Worker is out now on PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch. You can, ironically enough, order your copy from Amazon.
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