Review: Automachef

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A culinary puzzle

I feel like I’ve cooked more in video games than I ever did in real life or ever will.

There are so many compelling choices right now, from lighter arcade co-op experiences like Overcooked to more complex simulation games like Cook, Serve, Delicious. A title I’ve been racking my brains about lately leans much more in the latter direction. Instead of testing your reflexes, Automachef challenges you to mentally break down daunting logistical issues into smaller, more manageable chunks.

It’s a game all about building automated kitchens, and when I close my eyes now, all I see is an endless array of robot arms and conveyor belts. It’s like I’m back in the amazing machine days.

Automachef Review

Automachef (Nintendo Switch [reviewed]pc)
Developer: Hermes Interactive
Publisher: Team17
Released: July 23, 2019
MSRP: $14.99

Automachef may seem simple on the surface, and it starts out that way, but it’s a long game, unafraid to keep you simmering until you reach a moment of clarity and achieve the impossible.

During each level, you are asked to deliver a certain amount of meals to hungry customers who may infiltrate or rush into your beautiful establishment (which tends to happen at the worst times). The majority of Automachef has moved on to planning, creating and tinkering to improve your kitchen design. There’s a ton of back and forth as you run simulations, watch your factory do its thing in real time (or fast forward) and come back to fix any bottlenecks you just discovered. It’s not enough to follow flowchart recipes and get the right food from point A to point B within budget – you have to do it efficiently.

Although each level follows the same general structure, there are a multitude of constraints time, space, money, power consumption to throw a spanner in your plans. This last factor is particularly sneaky.

You’ll drop dispensers to dispense the necessary ingredients, use food processors, deep fryers, and grills to prepare them, and assemble it all into a magical machine that spits out a finished meal. Of course, you’ll need to use machines like the aforementioned robot arms and conveyor belts to transport this material. And did I mention that all of these machines have to be adjusted for the purpose at hand? By default, dispensers create ingredients every five seconds, and unattended this is going to lead to a clogged mess down the line. Fortunately, there are tools to give you proper control.

Although you can change some of your machines values ​​using quick and largely intuitive menus, the true MVP of Automachef is the Command Player, a blessed contraption that can dictate the behavior of other devices.

Using command readers, you can instruct machines to detect specific commands and then, for example, instruct them to perform their action once or twice, or as needed. Maybe you have too many unnecessary devices. You can set them to turn off after a certain time to save power. Or and that’s where the game stops messing around say you have to deliver a restaurant and take-out orders. Food can spoil if left unattended for too long. A flood of customers can suddenly arrive. Your assembly line should be smartly laid out and fine-tuned to meet everyone’s needs.

Some levels took me 15 minutes or less to figure out and perform. Others took over an hour. It is worth pointing out Automachef has a 30-level story campaign (with optional content) as well as a separate Contracts mode. The former revolves around a maniacal robot with big plans, while the latter involves taking jobs, earning money, and channeling it into machine unlocks as you see fit.

The trick from the start is figuring out which machines do what and how to get them to play well with each other in an elegant and profitable way. Later, you will know how to create each meal, but you may not have enough physical space to prepare them comfortably. My biggest challenge was definitely the risk of breakdowns. Basically, some missions will fail you if you go over a certain energy threshold, to the point where you’ll need custom logic for most of your machines so they don’t fire on all cylinders (while still running pretty quickly to meet delivery deadlines). It’s a lot to understand.

Automachef Review

Automachef can be deeply satisfying and frustrating. It’s exciting to run a bunch of tests, endlessly customize your kitchen’s layout and logic, and hit the “play” button knowing it’ll work without a hitch. Then there are those moments of desperation when you discover a fatal flaw and realize it’s better to start from scratch. Highs are high and lows are low, in other words.

I would have had a much smoother time if the progression of the campaign hadn’t been so stiff. Each level has optional objectives, and I would have appreciated a system where, say, clearing enough of those objectives might allow me to bypass this tricky mission I’m losing my mind on today. Every time I’m stuck Automachef, I was really, really, terribly confused. He may be too ruthless for his own good.

On the bright side, the Nintendo Switch version of the game handles better than I expected. While this type of game will be best played on a PC with a mouse and keyboard it’s a grid-based simulation game with a good amount of menus, after all Switch commands work surprisingly well.

Automachef is home to mind-boggling challenges, but if you’re up to the task, you’ll end up making some happy breakthroughs. Don’t come expecting to relax after a long day at work.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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