I do love resource management games, having the ability to micro-manage everything in order to ensure all components involved are working as efficiently and in harmony with one another as they can. I also have a strange fascination with automated production lines, setting up a bunch of devices or people and then watching as they all work together to deliver the end result with little to no input from myself once I hit the ‘start’ button. With this in mind, you probably get the gist of how excited I was to try out Automachef, a resource management and automated cooking game from Hermes Interactive and Team17.
I initially started playing the game over on Steam and then moved over to the Nintendo Switch, so this review is going to be on the Switch version. Although both versions are identical, the only difference is that the Steam version is getting Steam Workshop integration, so you can create your own recipes and scenarios. What started out as a pleasant game quickly turned into a frustrating one which had me rage quitting on a number of occasions, let’s find out why…
Automachef is a puzzle game at its heart, it’s all about placing the right pieces in the right order so you can deliver the final product efficiently and quickly. However, each solution can be presented in a number of ways, thanks to the amount of money you have to spend and the large variety of different tools at your disposal. As such, this is a game that thrives on trial and error – build, test, fail, learn from your mistakes, improve, test, (hopefully) succeed.
There are two modes within Automachef, the Campaign and Contracts. Each of these offers countless hours and late nights as you furiously try and create the best production lines which are fit for purpose. Let’s take a look at both of these in a little more detail…
The campaign spans over 30 main missions and a bunch of optional bonus missions, each presenting you with a new recipe, new kitchen tools/devices, or giving you new mechanics to worry about such as disasters and rush hour. As such, these new devices are given to you for free as part of the story progression.
This is where the game becomes endless and incredibly fun. You take on contracts from various establishments who all have set criteria, it may be to deliver X amount of a certain food, deliver a certain number of something during rush hour, or simply don’t use too much power when making an efficient system. It’s similar to the Campaign only you only have the basic devices, the others must be bought via the money you gain from completing Contracts, all via a number of ‘skill tree’-like selection tabs. As your reputation increases, so does the number of contracts on offer and the complexity of their requests (along with the amount of money you get for the job).
So, what is Automachef actually like to play? What do you do? It’s all about creating a well-oiled machine that will do your bidding once you hit ‘start’, as you can’t touch anything once the patrons start rolling into the store. You’ll begin with a basic burger which requires you to place a raw patty distribution pod, a robotic arm to place it onto a grill, a smart arm to remove the cooked patty once it’s finished, a dispenser for the burger bun, and then a unit to combine the cooked patty and bun together so it can serve a complete burger. It’s your job to ensure you have all the required components placed in an efficient and cost-effective manner within the kitchen – we don’t want people waiting a long time for their food just because you’ve set up conveyor belts that transport the ingredients all over the place!
As Automachef progresses, so does your list of recipes and culinary skills. The simple burger will begin to evolve into ones which have double patties and bacon, maybe it has lettuce and cheese on there too (which requires a food processor to cut them up), or maybe you’ll dabble with hotdogs or even Happy-Meals where you’re required to put a number of finished products together into a little box. Some of the designs took me easily over an hour to perfect in order to meet the three important criteria every mission has; Fulfil a number of orders, Don’t use over a set amount of power, and Don’t use over a certain number of ingredients.
You would think this is easy, but it’s crazy how much energy your kitchen uses if you leave all of the grills and machinery turned on. As such, you also have to utilise ‘Order Readers’, devices which you can self-program to perform various tasks on up to four devices based upon what order the customer wants. For example, you may tell it to distribute one burger bun, one patty and turn on the grill, but only when an order comes in for a burger – thus having all devices turned off until an order comes through. You can even have a common component between two orders being cooked then use the Order Reader to turn on a robotic arm to grab the cooked product and place it on another production line based on what order the customer makes. It’s all rather complex and customisable.
The whole game is all about trial and error and managing your resources as best as you can. I personally love Automachef as it really gets you to think because every single creation has to be built differently. One build may have been fine on an earlier level, but now you have to do it again but using less power or money, thus changing how you can look at it.
I don’t know what it is about Team17 but they love making me hate cooking and preparing food! First, they gave us Overcooked, a game which had me arguing with my family as we didn’t listen to each other and practically burnt down our kitchen, and now this, Automachef hurts my brain! Whereas most of the missions in the campaign are fairly straightforward, albeit requiring a decent amount of thought and concentration in order to fulfil what’s being asked of you, some are down-right impossible!
I’m at a point where our floating robotic head buddy has asked me to help him out. He’s built a production line for making a few different orders but he wants me to make it more efficient and deliver the orders without the food going stale and customers walking out. Customers will walk out if they wait too long, thus reducing your reputation and making you lose the game, and food will go stale if it’s sat around too long having not been used. You can even cause cross-contamination if you’re not careful and make everyone sick. This particular mission is so hard – I’m tempted to just sell all of the pre-placed items and just start again from scratch. I won’t lie, I’ve actually rage quit on this particular level about four times so far.
That’s not the only level that has caused me trouble though, you can micromanage everything from increasing the speed of the conveyor belts to making the grills cook slower or faster (adjusting the time and power required). Trying to find the sweet spot in order to meet the requirements for all three stars per level is quite difficult at times as the game forces you to experiment and try new things each time. This isn’t like other automated games where you can just build the same structure/device over and over and hope for a win (like in some of the Bridge Constructor games), this game requires every ‘puzzle’ to be approached differently and independently of the previous ones.
The tools of the trade
As I stated previously, you unlock and get given new devices as you progress in the Campaign and they all come with a mini-tutorial which is usually in the form of an easy job that uses them for the first time. A lot of the new appliances you get are evolutions of the ones you start with, such as a conveyor belt with a built-in grill which cooks food as it passes through, rather than using the separate grill, but this now uses double the power as a standard grill – so is it worth it? Again, it all comes down to efficiency, which in this case, the new one is much faster and efficient at cooking and doesn’t require a few robotic arms to place and remove the items, so it could turn out to be cheaper in the long run.
I love the diversity of the items later on into Automachef though, there are items to prevent disasters such as sprinklers in case of fires, fryers for succulent chicken and fries, conveyors which splits food into separate conveyor belts, and many more new and intriguing additions.
As you don’t automatically get new appliances in the Contract mode, you need to invest your own money into the purchase of these new and improved devices. Each contract has three difficulty levels, offering more money the harder it is. However, you may not have the right tools for the job. As such, taking a contract on easy, then investing the payment money into upgrading and getting new accessories, is your best option. This means you can now attempt the harder contracts and pick up even better devices later on.
If you just fancy messing around with all of the appliances on offer, without having to worry about serving customers, saving money, and not creating power-hungry production lines, then you can head into the Test Site. In here, you are free to experiment with every recipe, tool and device in the entire game, including those you haven’t yet unlocked like the faster conveyors or teleportation pads! I’ve dabbled with new creations within this mode but the game presumes you have prior knowledge of using the new devices, which I did not. Sure, you get a small paragraph of information about each component when you select it, but it’s not the same as the mini-tutorials you get when you progressively unlock them during normal gameplay.
I’ve played the vast majority of Automachef on the Nintendo Switch in Portable mode and I’ve not noticed any slowdown or technical issues. The controls are a little fiddly at first, with the face buttons moving you between menus and the Control stick or ‘D-Pad’ selecting things (or not) depending on which menu you’re in, etc… But, after a few hours I was adapted to it and able to progress with no issues. On the PC, the game worked flawlessly, even though my PC isn’t that new – I imagine almost everyone could run this game as it’s not very demanding, even with a lot of orders being processed at the same time.
Visually, I like the simplistic yet detailed approach the game has gone for. Whilst zoomed out, the game looks rather simple with each unit clearly different to avoid confusion (even the distribution pods have images of the item they are spitting out on them), yet when you zoom in, you can see that each item has a number of small details which are animated and adds to the realism. Overall, I love how simplistic the game looks despite how advanced and deep the actual gameplay is. Even things such as the recipe lists are nice and simple with big images and breakdowns of how to make each individual product.
Soundwise, the music is nice and cheery – an absolute must in games like this which can frustrate you a lot, and the sound effects all sound as you’d expect. I have no issue with the audio on offer, it was well balanced and fit the situation.
Automachef is the gaming equivalent of Marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys micromanaging all the various aspects of your creation in order to get the most out of it (such as Theme Park, Railway Empire, Tropico, etc), then you’ll most likely appreciate the depth and complexity of this rather simple-looking resource management game. However, if you’re not a fan of games that require a lot of planning with many trial and error attempts, you probably won’t get the level of satisfaction I got. There’s a whole host of machines and recipes to work with, as well as the endless Contract mode and Mods/Custom Scenarios (if you’re on PC), so you’ll never get bored or run out of things to do within this game.
Resource management games are quite common these days, ‘great’ resource management games are much rarer. For me, Automachef is one of the best games in the genre on the Nintendo Switch as it’s had me hooked since the moment I received it and I’m on it almost every night trying to progress a little further. The addictive nature of the game and the level of satisfaction you gain upon completing a mission is far greater than anything else I’ve played on the platform recently.
**If you want to try out the game before you pick it up, to see if it’s something you’d enjoy, there’s a demo over on Steam here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/984800/Automachef/ **
- - Tonnes of gameplay as every solution is different and the Contracts mode will keep you busy for weeks
- - Very satisfying once you finally create a fully-working efficient production line
- - Colourful and simplistic design for a rather deep and complex game
- - Full support for mods and custom scenarios (on PC only)
- - The difficulty spike and overall difficulty is quite high, requiring a lot of trial and error and experimentation in order to progress
- - The Switch version appears to have a few things missing, such as the Mod/Custom Scenario support and writing out code naturally (although you can still write code using the simple visual method)
- - Can get quite frustrating if you can't plan things out efficiently during the later levels of the Campaign