Look, we all love Giancarlo Esposito’s ridiculously good depiction of Gus Fring in Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul. However, can you claim to love him quite as much as Definitely Not Fried Chicken? A game about setting up fake laundrettes and chicken shops to hide your narcotics empire? Didn’t think so.
Well if your dream has been to follow in ruthless Gus’ footsteps (minus the bell-ringing fate), Definitely Not Fried Chicken is the perfect title for you. Part drug cartel simulation and part fake strategy business management, it’s a pretty compelling premise.
As the old saying goes though, crime doesn’t pay, but copious amounts of cannabis, meth and cocaine does. That is the saying, right? Anyway, with its Early Access release confirmed, does Definitely Not Fried Chicken make a fearsome Heisenberg simulator or a Pinkman “bitch!” experience?
I Am The One Who Knocks
As mentioned above, the basic premise of Definitely Not Fried Chicken is straightforward. You’re a budding criminal entrepreneur set loose on a lively, unsuspecting, drug-addicted city. Your job is to build drug farms, manage deliveries to munchies-afflicted locals and establish legal fronts to cover your enterprise.
There’s no story nor exposition required, there’s a city, you’re a drug kingpin, start making $$$. The tutorial does a minimal job showing you the ropes of business management – you’ll be micromanaging workers, setting work schedules, selecting tasks, establishing buildings and placing various items required. Think The Sims, but with more illegal dealings and more intended death.
Unfortunately, the introduction doesn’t do a great job of teaching you the intricacies of effectively managing worker’s needs, creating a cost-effective empire or even how to do some essential elements to make businesses actually run.
While I’m all for self-discovery and learning through doing, it’s very easy to screw up early on and waste your starting funds on your mistakes, with no ability to really recover. I had to restart 3 times through my own error and a 4th time due to a save issue (the button just… stopped working). Trial-and-error certainly helps brew a solid “blue stuff” but it’s not a great high to start on for a video game.
Once you eventually do get to grips with establishing yourself (hopefully much faster than me), you can start growing your… totally legal… wares for sale.
Whether plotting your drugs business or franchises, you’ll be purchasing plots of land, charting rooms, hiring staff and ensuring needs are met. You’ll need growing rooms for your happy plants, store houses for finished product ready for delivering, toilet facilities, breakrooms, the usual.
Different varieties of plant will have specific needs such as moisture levels or temperature, requiring effective use of space and planning to ensure they hit 3-star production. Orders and sales will request and reward higher quality produce, which sets up most of the game’s difficulty curve.
It’s expensive to set up an efficient business so you need to balance a number of factors correctly in you’re going to be successful. You’ll then be setting certain plots as roads to allow your garages to start shipping out your money-making herbs.
On the surface, the system sounds complex and a lot to micro-manage. That’s because it is. However, once your lab is functioning there’s very little you’ll need to do to help it stay productive. Workers will automatically do every task required so your only input is managing orders, expanding your empire and occasionally dipping in for new equipment to grow new strains.
Where’s The Product, Man?!
Once your production is established, the problems with Definitely Not Fried Chicken start to taint the stems.
Initially, you only have mopeds available, which can only deliver one herb at a time. No biggie, the orders shouldn’t be too large right? Nope. Minimum 8 per delivery. The monetary rewards for deliveries are insufferably low at first, creating an instant bottleneck.
My first 3-4 hours (of my successful attempt) were spent mindlessly watching the game play itself as you intermittently accept orders and direct your vehicles to them. The interface isn’t especially well explained and the erratic frequency orders are given are a problem too. Multiple times I was stuck hemorrhaging money as the game simply wouldn’t give me orders, which meant I couldn’t set up a legitimate business to create consistent, passive income.
Once you get higher qualities of strains or different products, orders will request multiples of each, or have a time-limit. But that’s sadly where the variety begins and ends. The fact that delivery vehicles also have to be constantly watched as they won’t efficiently manage themselves or handle deliveries without your input is also something I’d like to see addressed, it’s a chore. I spent a majority of my playtime not playing at all, just watching endlessly. Crime should definitely feel more adrenaline-rushing than this?
Get Us The Good Stuff
In order to get past these unfortunate bottlenecks you’ll need to simultaneously be delivering the goods to specific locations for upgrades. The University, Gunshop and Scrapyard won’t reward you monetarily but build up enough points and you can purchase new equipment, vehicles and tech to aid your expansion.
I would 100% recommend doing scrapyard first to get cars which can deliver 4 packages at once as opposed to 1, it speeds things up immensely. A lot of the upgrades are still currently locked behind the Early Access barrier, due to be released in future, which is a real shame as the game is sorely lacking variety in its current state.
Only 3/6 front businesses, 1/3 meth strains and 0/3 cocaine strains are available presently, meaning cannabis is the only viable system right now. Additionally, while you need one engineer and one cleaner per business, you can ignore hiring guards or gaining weapons as there’s simply no need for them. Aside from a scripted attack at the start, my businesses never suffered even a turf-war drive-by in the 13+ hours I spent expanding.
It makes a lot of Definitely Not Fried Chicken’s content feel under-baked at the moment. The core systems are there and the root of this plant is solid, there’s just no satisfying high awaiting the end of the laborious process.
I’m A Legitimate Businessman
Definitely Not Fried Chicken’s more legal business ventures fare a little better owing to their inherent differentiation. Buying business licences allows you to start owning and upgrading the potential assets for higher ratings and more customers, raking in more cash.
A launderette largely manages itself, only needing a skeleton crew to serve customers extra… fragrance…, while the donut and chicken shops require much more space, manpower and input to be efficient. Setting up your first donut kitchen or chicken restaurant is genuinely fun, provided you can survive the painful tedium to build up the resources to build them.
Again, once they’re established, there’s little you need to do. You’ll be reverted to a passive bystander, staring at the dispatch map micro-managing every delivery as your businesses just crack on regardless of your existence.
There’s supposed to be a law awareness meter, which assumedly I’d need to manage or do something about as my drug haven grows, but it doesn’t work. Flat out, the meter disappeared after my first two attempts and there’s simply no Police presence to be fearful of. The lack of stakes nor challenge from the cops or rival drug lords means it’s a challenge and reward free experience, mostly.
Stick It To ‘Um
If it sounds like I’ve been apathetic up to this point, it’s largely because I am. The premise of Definitely Not Fried Chicken is definitely here somewhere, it’s just submerged in tedium to the point it drowns out the eventual bit of fun.
Luckily, the presentation and visual direction provide a much needed boost. Sporting pixel art graphics complete with stick-figure animations, the game actually looks great. Worker and customers movements are smooth and well detailed for the tasks they’re completing. Rooms, equipment and businesses look distinct and there’s plenty of colourful overlays to help you glean information you need in busy settings.
I dig it. The clean look of buildings across the city is accentuated by the vibrancy on show. It’s almost like the sensitivity was turned up 10 notches but in a crisp kind of way.
It’s not all perfect sadly. I had one chicken-dressed gangster get stuck in a perpetual loop of swinging a bat for the entirety of a 2 hour attempt despite having no hitbox or clip detection anymore. Delivery vehicles would sometimes just refuse to move despite having no traffic/logical reason for doing so. An engineer became phobic to doing his job (can relate) so I had to fire and re-hire a new one to make the AI pattern work again.
There’s more bugs than an un-pesticided plant, is what I’m getting at. Tuco would have rolled many a head for less (damn man, look at that, look!). It doesn’t help there’s only a couple of ambient music tracks that play for potentially dozens of hours worth of playtime too.
A Pre-emptive High
Definitely Not Fried Chicken is definitely not bad. It’s just very clearly unfinished. Many of these issues are likely to be ironed out over time to create a very, very satisfying dope loop. There’s a wealth of content additions and significant gameplay add-ons that are demonstratably on their way. With more time this kingpin simulator will become a real competitor to the street stuff.
However, while I can acknowledge what the game will be (and kudos to the dev team for the tremendous communication they have with the community), it simply isn’t there right now. The frustrating suffocating of progress, clunky interface menus and poorly explained systems make this a tough plant to smoke in the early stages.
If you can see through the problems there is a decent, well-conceived and superbly presented management game to be enjoyed. I fully trust the devs will deliver on the concept with time and should you stick with it, it may just turn out to be a diamond in the blue meth rough. For me, too many of my 13 hours were spent idly wishing I had more to do, or a Hector Salamanca with a bell to end my reign of drug-addled tyranny.
Definitely Not Fried Chicken is a nicely seasoned yet rather undercooked *definitely not* chicken breast. More time in the fryer and greater varieties of the *ahem*… good stuff on the side… will have this criminal empire bustling one day, but for now it’s a tasty treat in waiting.
Definitely Not Fried Chicken is available now on PC via Early Access (review platform).
Developer: Dope Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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