It’s not hard to see the allusions to the real world and the path that capitalism is taking us down in The Last Worker. Jüngle is a riff on Amazon, its figurehead founder looks an awful lot like Jeff Bezos behind a virtue signalling rainbow of a hair cut, and the introductory cinematic depicts how a bustling warehouse job for an online shipping company gradually transforms from human jobs to purely robotic ones – and in rather more brutal fashion than you might expect. It’s high time we tear it all down, isn’t it?
Kurt is the only one left, with more than 9000 days of work behind him, as the rest of the human workforce has eroded away over time. He lives on-site, making a home for himself in a dust-clogged recycling pit, hops onto a hover buggy for the day-to-day of sorting packages, and has just a single friend in the world – a Jüngle CoBot nicknamed Skew. Skew is oddly full of character and personality for an AI cog in the Jüngle machine, but you can immediately see that he’s been through the wars, the metal housing around his eyes having been torn and warped in some accident or another. He’s not just a regular bot anymore.
The day-to-day for Kurt sees him racing around an inhospitable warehouse, looking to grab specific packages from shelves, check that they meet the label specifications of size and weight, ensure they’re not damaged, and then either send them on their way through pneumatic tubes, or mark and send them for recycling. It’s an engaging little loop, especially as it’s gamified with a rating system that tops out at J (for Jüngle, of course). Some boxes will be on a timer, others will be fragile, and you’re always given a preview of what it is you’ve managed to sort once you drop it off, from baby VR goggles to Trumpian trolls, obscenely large vats of processed food and Nun-chucks.
Of course, you can tell that this is a fully dystopian take on late-stage capitalism, as every droplet of compassion and humanity has been wrung out of the process in the name of profits. I mean, Kurt has to literally race for his job against robotic workers – who can cheat, it should be noted – and it’s not like his quality of living is any good either. Yet he takes pride in being the last human working there, has his friendship with the foul-mouthed Skew keeping him going. Unless something dramatic happens, he’d probably continue on in that rut until he keels over.
Cue dramatic things.
You see, there’s an even darker and more twisted side to Jüngle behind the already shady corporate veneer, and Kurt is dragged into uncovering the conspiracy, sneaking past guard bots – sadly this is one of the weaker elements with near-instant fails in most situations – and hacking control terminals with a symbol matching puzzle.
It’s the appearance of a sleeker, more futuristic little Hoverbird, controlled by someone outside the Manhattan-sized distribution plant who forces Kurt to help the revolutionary cause. It’s a fractious relationship to start – especially between Skew and Hoverbird – but thanks to great performances by the main trio of Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Kurt, Jason Isaacs as Skew and Clare-Hope Ashitey as Hoverbird, there’s a depth of feeling that emerges.
The narrative plays in rather broad strokes with Jüngle at the heart of pretty much every single wrong that this version of the world is faced with. You can see the overt consumerism in the day job, but breaking out behind the scenes reveals their grip on healthcare, military contracting and more, while throwaway lines reveal the environmental toll this all has. There’s some fairly expected twists and turns along the way as the moonlighting leads to a final choice for Kurt to make, but given the path taken to get there, having a choice at all is a little hollow.
The game looks great, leaning on a comic book art style from Mike McMahon, who’s best known for his work at 2000 AD. That visual direction will scale up from Nintendo Switch or the standalone VR of a Meta Quest to higher-end systems – we played on PS5 and PSVR 2.
Naturally, The Last Worker tailors itself to the controllers or the physical motions that you have in each. Just moving Kurt’s hover-buggy around feels so utterly different, with a more standard FPS control scheme on flat screen, while you can either grab a control stick in VR and use the trigger or just use the left analogue stick for movement and rotation (tank controls, in other words). Why is that? Well, it’s because using the anti-gravity gun to grab and manipulate objects uses the D-pad to move them in and out on TV, but the right analogue stick when in VR, so that can’t pull double duty for buggy movement. It’s a similar tale for swapping between Jünglegun attachments, which is on buttons on TV, but use physical space in VR.
The main issue I had when jumping back and forth between the two was that the lack of a controller layout screen. The game does have an ‘Information’ explainer for most of the things you need to do in the game, but there’s a few edge cases that it misses out on, such as swapping between Jünglegun attachments, and there’s no basic controller layout screen either. It took me a good long while to realise that all but the first attachment was dangling above my head, which I had to lean back and look up to find. While some games can have NPCs over-explain what you need to do, an additional line of dialogue here or there to nudge me wouldn’t have gone amiss.
There’s a smattering of other rough edges that I also hope will be ironed out in updates, which are most jarring in VR. There’s inconsistent menu selections, some overly precise aiming needed with the Jünglegun, a woolliness to hacking puzzle inputs (which are sometimes under time pressure), and one specific broken-terrain bottleneck that I got stuck on which would have been annoying enough on TV, but was a little rough to deal with in VR. It’s also sometimes tricky to know quite where the game wants you to go next, given that the pathfinding trail only works during the day job and not when exploring elsewhere.