With cooking games on the rise, Automachef tasks you with creating and managing an automated kitchen that will process orders and make food to the highest level. You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds easy but it really isn’t. Automachef is one of the toughest puzzlers I’ve played in recent memory. Maybe ever.
The bulk of each level involves the long process of laying out your kitchen, picking the right machines and making sure they are programmed correctly before pressing the go button and seeing if everything goes off without simply catching fire. Like I said, it sounds simple but the process will have you pulling your hair out in no time.
Each level gives you set dishes that need to be made for punters, lovingly decided by your robot adviser who is definitely not hell bent on world domination. The first level gives you the simple but glorious hamburger, which is made quite simply with a cooked beef patty and two halves of a burger bun. Ingredients are fired out by Dispensers and travel along conveyor belts to their eventual destination – punters’ mouths. In between that, you need to place all kinds of funky machinery to make sure what they are eating, actually resembles a burger.
The burger patties obviously start off raw, so you first need to cook them on a grill, which means you need robot arm on either side to first plop the patty on to be cooked and then programming the second arm to only pick up a cooked burger. Clever stuff. The buns are dispensed from a seperate machine before all converging along the same belt to another set of robo arms that transfers them to the Assembler. You program the Assembler to recognise the recipe and hey presto, you have one juicy burger. Just make sure you put yet another robot arm on the other side to take them off the Assembler or they will pile up.
That’s just a burger though, one of the simplest recipes. Imagine when you have a BLT that requires many different ingredients to be cut, slice or cooked to create the perfect sandwich, or maybe it’s a special hot dog and fries, needing two production lines to combine at the end? You’ll be approaching some absurd levels of space management and foresight in order to get the food out, and it doesn’t take long to get to this stage either. The tutorial really isn’t long enough considering the complexity of the necessary solutions.
I initially thought I had a good handle on things, but when level five rocked around and they introduced packaging food, I just became more confused. I feel like you need a degree in robo food management before you can tackle Automachef. It’s clever stuff, but a little too clever for me. You can probably breeze through most of the initial campaign levels on the one objective of delivering a set amount of dishes, but if you want to try and meet the other level objectives, like cooking using a set number of ingredients or not using over a certain amount of power, then you need to do some serious thinking. And thinking takes time. A lot of time. Civilization amounts of time.
Food spoils incredibly quickly, so your system must be reactive and fast. That’s where the Order Reader machines and computers come in. By default, dispensers produce one item every five seconds, which usually means your meal assemblers will get overloaded, causing spoiled meals or fires. The Order Reader can circumvent these issues by being programmed to only dispense a set amount of ingredients when orders come in. In theory, this should be pretty cut and dry, but most of the time, things were still going wrong and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Changing the dispense time of the food wasn’t helping and I was still going over my ingredients limit despite making to order. I felt like the Order Reader was an enigma I couldn’t crack.
One saving grace is that you get unlimited retries and you can test your production line before hitting go. It’s the best thing to do in a game like this as you will make a lot of mistakes in trying to get the right set up in the first place. That being said, would this need unlimited retries if it wasn’t so difficult in the first place?
Once you’ve mastered Campaign mode, you then have Contracts mode to sink your teeth into. Contracts Mode let’s you start up your own business and take on various contracts from big corps, earning cash and buying new machines to help with tougher contracts later on.
This is fine but honestly, after forty campaign missions, it feels a little samey, offering nothing new. Strategy fans who will have the time to put into Automachef will get a lot of enjoyment out of this, but for everyone else, there’s little to entice. Not even the sandbox mode, which I personally only gave twenty minutes to after the long hours I sank into Campaign Mode and Contracts Mode. I’d just had enough at this point and felt like I needed to lay down.