In recent years Team 17 has morphed into a true powerhouse when it comes to publishing some terrific indie games, among them Overcooked, The Escapists and Yoku’s Island Express. The latest game the prestigious company published is Hermes Interactive’s Automachef, but is the game a worthy contender among a myriad of gems or does it shine with the fading luster of fool’s gold?
If you have an arbitrary phobia of conveyor belts Automachef might not be for you. At first, if very fleeting, glance Automachef might seem like a business simulation à la Game Dev Tycoon or Restaurant Empire, but this is an entirely different beast. Instead of trying to squeeze the most money out of a company or shop this game is all about machine-like efficiency. In the absolutely literal sense. As such Automachef is much more akin to a puzzle game, but more on that in a minute.
Your main objective in each level is to fulfill a certain amount of food orders in a completely automated kitchen, hence the title Automachef. “But Thomas, how does one automate something as complex and as much in need of human hands as a kitchen?” the astute reader might ask. The answer should be obvious, but I’ll get that for you.
First, you place a dispenser and set it to produce some burger buns. Use a conveyor belt to transport the buns to a robotic arm which can put the buns in an assembler which is of course set to produce a cheeseburger. Next set another dispenser to produce raw patties and send them to a robotic arm via conveyor belt to put them on an electric grill. Use a smart robotic arm and set its ingredient filter to cooked patties so it won’t just pick up uncooked burger patties. The smart robotic arm puts the cooked burger patties into the assembler as well. Last but not least set another dispenser to produce cheese, which goes into a food processor to make cheese slices. Send these to your assembler by way of a robotic arm. Now your recipe for a delicious cheeseburger is complete and your assembler will output the dish. Voila!
This might sound tedious at first, but… Well, it actually is. The game eases you into the various recipes by increasing the complexity step by step and also by ramping up the difficulty of the objective requirements. Nonetheless, you will have to construct many machines from scratch when starting a new level. To alleviate this you can turn existing machinery into blueprints usable throughout all the levels.
Unfortunately, the controls are not your friend in undertaking your tasks. A lot of menuing around is involved in the process of picking out pieces of machinery, placing them around your various factory floors and choosing modes of operation. The controller layout for this felt very unintuitive to me resulting in many wrong button presses. Add to that issues of unresponsiveness to inputs and too sensitive inputs during navigation of menu items and the tediousness of the underlying gameplay starts to become annoying.
The design and tone of it all was a nice surprise. If up until this point Automachef sounds rather dull the light and humorous approach is a real breath of fresh air. During the campaign mode, a robot character gives introductions to each new level and these can even be funny. The graphics are nothing spectacular but the consistent designs between the various machine parts make it look very nice. Just don’t zoom in on the… “humans” that pass outside of some of your factory halls.
What it all boils down to is this: Does making interconnections between multiple machines as efficient as possible sound like fun to you? How about adhering to strict energy and financial budgets? You don’t want to make any money doing exactly what sounds and feels like work? If all this applies to you I sure have the right game for you but even then many annoying flaws could stand in the way of your really specific idea of fun.
On the other hand, Automachef is a rather unique experience and if it sounds like one for you the abundance of content should make you happy for a long time. The campaign’s 35 missions are added upon with 10 optional ones. The Contracts Mode gives you the opportunity to take the helm of a company, taking up various jobs to construct kitchens with certain requirements, accruing more and more of a reputation and cash to accept more complex jobs.
While Automachef was not the game for me it certainly has its qualities and might even be a less obvious example of edutainment in regards to programming. I bet someone will get a kick out of this.