Wolf & Wood is a developer that knows what it is doing when it comes to VR. Yet the studio’s catalogue is a really mixed bag. From the excellent, The Exorcist: Legion VR to the hit-and-miss that was Hotel R’n’R, its latest title The Last Worker is a return to form, sort of, on Meta Quest 2. It’s been a while since I last played a VR game where I switched between enjoyment and boredom in quick succession. Wanting more, then wanting less as narrative and gameplay collided into one package to be distributed to the masses.
Narrative is everything in The Last Worker so if you’re not interested in a critical yet satirical look at what the future of e-commerce could become, avoid that ‘buy now’ button in your online basket. The Last Worker revolves around Kurt, the titular ‘Last Worker’ who spends his days picking orders for the world’s largest retailer, Jüngle.
A lonely automated world
In an increasingly automated world, all of Kurt’s colleagues have gone, fired and replaced by automated robots. How he has survived is unclear, but he’s slipped through the cracks and managed to continue his employment for 25 years. His only friend is a flying robot called Skew, and together they navigate the cavernous warehouse that is Kurt’s home, picking boxes to be sent to customers or recycled if they’re damaged or incorrect in some way.
Naturally, his sheltered world comes crashing down when an activist infiltrates the facility and asks Kurt for help. You could say no, but this is a linear narrative so you don’t get the option, time to bring down the man!
The Last Worker starts out fairly tame. You’re confined to a flying “JünglePod” which gives you full access to the towering shelves containing every item imaginable. It’s worth playing with the comfort settings as you’ll be whizzing about picking boxes as fast as possible, trying to meet the daily quota to attain that perfect “J” score. If you don’t you can restart the level to try again.
This acts as a mini-game filler of sorts because later on you can choose how much of this you do whilst completing side objectives to advance the story. Armed with a JüngleGun to remotely grab items, boxes are labelled with weight and sizes, and if they’re not correct you can dispose of them to maintain your order levels. Simple, straightforward puzzling, The Last Worker never really explores this mechanic to its fullest. I almost want an entire side speedrun mode just to explore this further, shame there isn’t one.
When not picking boxes, The Last Worker is mostly about stealth. Sneaking past robot sentries to access deeper parts of the facility. Like a lot of stealth games, this is where most of the tension and frustration lies. The robots have clear fields of view so evading them isn’t too difficult for the most part. It’s about watching their patterns and timing your movements. The security guards are far quicker without lasers indicating where they’re looking, making death far more likely, constantly flipping between the game and reload screens.
Couple this with the fun – but not that difficult – puzzles and The Last Worker has a nice flow to it, for the most part. However, unless you concentrate and really become invested in the narrative, the gameplay is average at best.
There were times when I wanted more freedom, being able to strafe in the JünglePod, for example. Or then there are the occasional moments when you leave the pod. Movement is facilitated purely by grabbing a walking stick and pushing it forward into a highlighted area. The view goes dark and you’re a little further on, rinse and repeat, very slowly. I get the walking stick reference is symbolic of Kurt’s years in the JünglePod but still, its implementation is clunky.
I do love the visual design, a mixture of cel-shaded, comic book stylings that doesn’t wear thin. Coupled with the excellent audio and vocal performances – Skew is voiced by Jason Isaacs – highlighting the superb production values.
Unfortunately, by the end of The Last Worker, I left with mixed feelings about my time at Jüngle. None of the multiple endings offered quite a satisfactory resolution to this tale. And I really felt that the story told didn’t go deep enough into the heart of a capitalist-induced dystopian future.
The Last Worker Review Summary
The Last Worker sells itself as an ‘immersive narrative adventure’ rather than a videogame, so you really need to be clear about this going in. There were moments I truly enjoyed playing Kurt and felt genuinely sad for his existence because it’s not that far away from the truth. Regardless, The Last Worker’s 5+ hour runtime doesn’t explore the narrative enough alongside constrained gameplay mechanics. You may want to leave this box on the fulfilment centre shelf until sale day.