Title: Automachef Released On: July 23, 2019 Genre: Puzzle Reviewed On: PC Developer: Hermes Interactive Publisher: Team17 Digital MSRP: $14.99 USD / $17.49 CAD
Orders are coming in fast and my automated robotic kitchen is keeping up. Robotic arms grill burgers before sending them off on a conveyor belt to get assembled and sent out to hungry patrons. The air is filled with the satisfying bells and chimes that accompany a job well done, another satisfied customer.
It doesn’t last long, however.
Pretty soon, my fine tuned edible assembly line runs into problems. Bottlenecks in my kitchen design cause food to come out slower, ingredients get backed up on the conveyor belt and getting spoiled. As if that’s not enough to worry about, burgers got left on the grill for too long and now I have a kitchen fire on my hands!
Behind Automachef’s cartoonish appearance and charming humor, there is a challenging puzzle game with quite the learning curve.
Automachef is the latest course from Hermes Interactive, an independent developer who partnered with Team17 to bring this culinary puzzler to life. Hermes Interactive looks to serve up an addictive puzzler with Automachef, where you must assemble a kitchen of conveyor belts, fryers, grills, order readers and many other devices to create an automated system producing any recipe on the menu. You will typically set up your kitchen to read incoming orders using an “order reader” which will then dispense the ingredients you need. The ingredients are ferried on conveyor belts to be grilled, fried and/or assembled before being sent out to the hungry masses. Although the general workflow of your kitchen will, more often than not, follow this template, it is by no means the only way of completing levels. Automachef gives you goals and a large toolkit to accomplish those goals however you see fit. I doubt any two gamers’ kitchens will look identical.
Not only does your kitchen have to create the requested meals, it must also balance the electricity bill. Automachef is as much about resource management as it is about getting food out the kitchen in a timely manner. You will have to get crafty to make sure you don’t draw too much electricity and cause a black out. For example, leaving your grill on even when it is not being used is a constant energy drain. The solution? Program the grill to turn off when you aren’t using it. However, to do that you need another component which also uses electricity! Looks like it is time to go through your design and see where you can eliminate redundancies and cut back on your electrical footprint.
Automachef’s campaign does an excellent job of guiding players through the increasingly complicated tool-set at their disposal. I imagine the learning curve would be unbearably tough without a comprehensive tutorial which slowly introduces new elements, letting players get the hang of concepts before throwing a wrench into their plans. At the end of each level you are presented with an after-action report. How efficient was your kitchen? How much electricity did you use? Did you waste any food? Automachef begs for you to replay its levels, constantly pushing you to further optimize your system. It is easy to make a rough, inefficient assembly line which gets the job done but Automachef shines brightest when you put in the work to make a hyper-refined ballet of robotic arms, fine-tuned to send ingredients exactly where they need to go without using extra materials.
Once you have played through the campaign and mastered the computational culinary arts, you can then enjoy contracts mode and sandbox mode. Contracts mode lets you start your own kitchen automation company to complete contracts and unlock new equipment. This game mode doesn’t do much to change the main gameplay loop outside of forcing you to complete levels with tighter equipment restraints. Sandbox mode goes the opposite direction, stripping away all constraints and simply letting you play around with all the components at your fingertips. Automachef also comes with mod support through Steam Workshop meaning you can keep things fresh long after the other game modes have gone stale.
The satisfaction of Automachef is not unlike the satisfactions that come from programming, and that is not unintentional. Undoubtedly, Automachef is going to be compared to other programming puzzle games like Infinifactory or Human Resource Machine, games that teach you programming without teaching you programming. Games where you set up your system, looking through it with a fine-toothed comb and the unrealistic expectation that it will work perfectly the first time you press “GO” only to watch it fail spectacularly. You will forget to program your robotic arms to take cooked burgers off the grill, the Automachef equivalent of forgetting a semi-colon in your code, or watch as you accidentally send cheese slices into the deep fryer. You must then debug your appetizing assembly line the same way a programmer would crawl through code and the immense satisfaction of finally getting the result you want is no less satisfying.
Automachef’s delightful presentation and clever premise complete the package that makes an overall satisfying puzzler. There are, however, a few quality of life enhancements that are surprisingly absent.
Most notably, Automachef’s interface can be cumbersome, especially when switching between different parts. Requiring you to scroll up and down a list of parts is incredibly time-consuming and un-intuitive especially when simply having the different parts assigned to hotkeys on the keyboard would have simply solved this problem. There is also no way to pin the recipes to your in-game HUD, so when you need a refresher on the steps needed to create a certain dish, you will need to stop the action of the game and navigate to a menu.
Lastly, a minor grievance. For a game so obsessed with optimization and engineering principles, it is disappointing that Automachef does not give you a lot of metrics or tools to assess exactly how great (or terrible) your kitchen is. It feels like this game is ideal for people like me: nerds who love data. I want to see graphs, I want to know exactly how “efficiency” is actually calculated. Thinking about how Civilization VI gives you incredibly detailed graphs analyzing every imaginable aspect of your game, I would have loved to see something similar in Automachef.
These grievances, while minor, do prevent Automachef from being a game that would completely take my life over. All other elements are here though, a simple, yet deep concept inviting iteration and replayability. A polished package with fun writing, nice visuals and great audio design. Automachef is an excellent way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon, just don’t expect it to replace any of the other programming puzzlers in your library.
Final Score: 7.0/10
Automachef delivers fun, programming-style puzzles in a easy-to-digest package. Some issues with user interface stop it short from perfection.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.