The Last Worker has a lot on its mind when it comes to the realities of modern work culture. Its opening cutscene depicts the life of a worker slaving away in a warehouse, any and all attempts at human connection slowly ground down into rote completion of tasks. All the while, the gap between rising profits and employee downsizing widens further and further. My brief time with it was an extremely blunt exercise in atmosphere and commentary, so much so that I didn't realize how rote its gameplay was.
As the title implies, you are the last human worker in a massive warehouse owned by a large megacorporation. Aside from a single drone that acts as your trainer and chaperone, you interact with nobody else. As my demo started, the drone began orientation and training for the main character, Kurt, despite the fact that he's worked at the company for 25 years. It was impressive just how much of this intro echoed similar orientations given to warehouse workers in real life. It is full of pleasantries and the same empty platitudes about the company “transporting dreams” while completely obfuscating the soul-crushing quotas and physical toll the job will take long-term as well as belittling, almost infantilizing those doing that work. In fact, the first “dream” you are tutorialized into locating then sending away for shipping is a VR headset designed for infants. Yes, it is heavy-handed, but it is also effective.
As if the commentary wasn't obvious enough, the name of the megacorporation that has whittled its workforce down to a single person and controls a warehouse the size of Manhatten is called Jüngle, barely one step removed from another recognizable real-world corporate giant.
As the demo continued, a new support character shows up. This one has delved deep into the facility and has unearthed dark secrets about the corporation at its heart, and calls the protagonist for help. This is where the demo begins to segue from an atmospheric walking simulator into a light stealth experience. You have to hide from patrol drones which will kill you on sight as you go further into the more alien industrial depths of the warehouse.
Unfortunately, when The Last Worker shifts to more direct gameplay, things are thin. The stealth sections are decent enough. Brightly colored graffiti highlights places you can hide which contrasts really well with the dark overwhelming industrial art style. Furthermore, the AI pathing isn't that aggressive. Unless you are actively standing out in the open like a rube these sections are easily passable.
Furthermore, there is a brief section where you need to use your tools to get rid of a tracking device. On paper, the tools are similar to Half-Life 2's gravity gun, press the trigger to grab something, and hit it again to launch it away. But there are noticeable input delays that make it frustrating to use. This lead to at least three deaths because, despite my pressing triggers, the game didn't recognize them.
What keeps me from fully investing in the potential of The Last Worker is just how brief the demo is and how aggressively it states its opinion on the state of the world. That aforementioned problem with the tool lasted about thirty seconds tops. The stealth section clocked in at about three minutes at most. The demo overall took me fifteen minutes to complete, and about a third of that was on the intro cutscene alone. It's just not enough time to see how involved or in-depth the gameplay experience will be.
As for its narrative elements, The Last Worker's demo doesn't leave a lot to wonder either. Aside from the intro characterizing the lead followed by some great atmosphere, the demo skips over a slow build to get to the stealth section. It's clear the developers wanted to promote intrigue about just what was happening at the heart of the warehouse but left out the rising tension and the pay-off. Not to mention the fact that the game's central location comes off as so dystopian it almost becomes a farce.
All of these issues might be ironed out in the full release, but as the demo stands, The Last Worker feels too disjointed in its progression, which undermines its otherwise loud and clear commentary. While it is great that a game wants to directly engage with actual concerns regarding warehouse workers, unchecked corporate capitalism, and the rampant consumerism that enables the whole industry, I'm hoping the complete experience does a better job expressing these concerns clearly.
TechRaptor previewed The Last Worker on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is set to come out sometime this year.