Project Automata is a “bring a hard hat and lunch pail to work,” blue collar kind of game. It gets the job done competently, but – no offense to blue collar workers out there – it’s not exactly the most exciting spectacle around.
It’s similar to a city building game, along the lines of Sim City or Cities: Skylines. As the developers describe it, though, it’s more along the lines of Factorio. You’re not really building a city per se, you’re instead creating an industrial empire. It’s an odd mix that sees you not only buying and building factories indiscriminately, but also placing roads and indirectly managing a town’s budgets. Perhaps it’s a scathing criticism of how capitalism moves in and takes control over small town politics. Probably not though.
A big selling point for Project Automata is the AI and random generation. Each map has several towns which you can build factories in. Depending on what goods you produce, each town will start to demand different items, or more of a certain item. You’ll have to change and grow just as the cities do around you. As is the case with a lot of games these days, each map is randomly generated, from roads and houses to what their demands and surpluses are.
The developers, Dapper Penguin Studio, have been working on this game for a year. Some of them have even quit their day jobs to have more time with it. This seems to be a passion project for them, which makes its passionless presentation all the more bizarre.
There’s just something about both the Kickstarter campaign and the game that screams boring. Bland, lifeless, sterile. Part of that can be attributed to the simplistic, minimalist art style. But the pitch video and the text of the campaign itself all seem to be paint by numbers. It’s just a man talking in front of a camera, or a bunch of words describing what the game is like. There are no exciting pitches, no bold statements or claims. Just factory standard “here is what our game is, here is why we’re on Kickstarter.”
This carries over to the gameplay, as an alpha demo is provided with the campaign. I hope we’ll have a more detailed impression in the coming days, but there’s not much to say about it. You see what city needs what, plop down factories, connect roads, and Bob’s your uncle. If you play it long enough, you may start to get into it. But in the early going, it really feels more like going down a checklist than playing a game.
Actually, perhaps saying there are no bold statements is going too far. There are a couple of head scratching statements on the Kickstarter page. “We are also developing an advanced A.I. that will change the gaming industry forever,” the developers claim. “In its current, early alpha state, Project Automata is already on par with many existing games in the genre,” another section reads.
Dapper Penguin Studio certainly talks a big game. The demo is technically solid, you have to give them that. But there’s hardly anything in it or on the Kickstarter page that would suggest they have “industry changing” AI. Maybe if they took some of that bravado and focused it on presenting a more interesting package, they’d have better luck.
With just $5,000 of their $168,000 goal raised so far the developers seem prematurely optimistic. In addition to that, they’ve boasted of being in the top 100 of Steam Greenlight in the first day. Though, if you’ve ever seen Steam Greenlight, you know the bar is set pretty low. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if they can raise enough money to inject a little life into the game, if nothing else.