by Joel France
reviewed on PC
A Simple Premise
The premise of Automachef is a simple one - using basic machinery as building blocks, construct yourself a fully automated, functioning kitchen that will serve your patrons with the utmost efficiency. Along the way you’ll face kitchen fires, food critics, and salmonella outbreaks, all of which will be overcome with enough careful planning.
An Exciting Opportunity
The main campaign begins with you taking a new job - designing machine-only supply chains that provide an endless service to the local masses. Your employer is a robot trying desperately to convince you they are a ‘fellow human’, with all of the cheesy dialogue a plot device like that entails. Despite the awkward writing, this does at least give an excuse for the game to explain some basic concepts to you without endless tooltips and tutorial screens. Once you’re happy with a particular design, you can open to the public - which means orders rolling in, with some customers more impatient than others. At the end of a shift, if you’ve fulfilled the necessary criteria, you’ll get a summary of your efforts - efficiency is key, so the more meals successfully delivered without wasting ingredients or electricity, the better. Because of these ‘soft’ win conditions, it’s clear that you’re expected to return to these levels once you understand a little more of the nuances of the game mechanics, to improve upon your amateur initial attempts. Throughout your time with the game, your efforts are underscored by a delightfully quaint selection of ‘easy listening’ music, reminiscent of the saccharine ideals of the 1950s, which makes every error feel like a delightful misunderstanding rather than a crushing defeat.
Once you’re settled into the flow of building up and tearing down a given production line, Automachef really begins to shine, with an intuitive UI that allows you to make quick changes to the machinery at your disposal. However, the rate at which you are expected to adapt to the precise mental gymnastics of planning a kitchen can be a cause for frustration. Whilst every element of optimization makes perfect sense in isolation, there is a surprising amount of depth to account for when scaling a project from a blank canvas. The tutorials and early levels do ramp up the difficulty at a consistent pace, but Automachef removes the training wheels perhaps a little before many players will have found their balance. As a result, what should be a satisfying problem-solving challenge becomes a game of guesswork for those players who are not yet fluent in the limitations of their machines.
The Spice of Life
As well as the main campaign, you have Contract Mode, a slightly more player-led offering whereby you choose which clients you want to design kitchens for, in exchange for cash you can then use to purchase additional machinery options to help you in the future. This mode definitely starts out on the more complex side, so it appears to be geared towards players who have already had their fill of the campaign, and are looking for some extra content in which to flex their chops. The promise of downloading player-made levels & uploading your own devious scenarios for others to try, as well as mod support to further expand the horizons, means that once Automachef launches, there could be a new wealth of content to sink your teeth into - though at the time of writing there was no opportunity to experiment with these features.
A Scalable Business
Once you’re past the steep learning curve, Automachef has a lot to offer. As you’re solving problems, not puzzles, there’s different ways to approach a task, which gives a fair amount of replayability. The chance to share player-made content with a budding community and bolster your options with modding capabilities means that this game could have some staying power - assuming that the initial difficulty spikes don’t spoil any appetites.
Variety of game modes, soundtrack.
Steep learning curve, cheesy writing.