You flip on the open sign, unlock the door, and gird yourself for a day of dealing with unexpected requests and belligerent customers. Such is the life of the food and customer service employee. It can be stressful and draining, but there is a sort of zen state you can achieve when the line seems to go on endlessly and you flawlessly execute on your one task, one customer after another. That when you finally hear the doors lock, announcing the end of business for the day, you can let your shoulders down, breathe in through your nose, and relax. The brilliance of the Cook, Serve, Delicious games is that they manage to perfectly capture the stress and headaches of food service in a video game that you actually want to play.
The genius of this series is that instead of focusing on managing tables or completing various cooking based mini games to prepare a dish, the cooking and preparation is all down to simply knowing how to quickly and efficiently manage various recipes. So instead of manually stirring a pot like you might do in a Cooking Mama game, you simply have to read a recipe and hit the right keys. The difficulty comes in being able to juggle that against the dozens of other orders coming in at the same time: orders from customers with ever-dwindling patience.
If you are unfamiliar with Cook, Serve, Delicious!, each day you choose a menu from a large list of dishes (each with their own unique recipe) that you will then need to prepare as customers make their orders. This can be as simple as selecting the correct flavor of gelato or as involved as preparing a burger with all of their specific requests. If someone orders some French toast and you’re stuck assembling a burger, that person might wait too long and will leave. Keeping all those plates spinning is a delicate balance and the perfect blend of stress and fun.
With CSD 3, you’re out of the kitchen and on the road in a food truck. Your building collapsed and you are rescued by two cooking robots named Whisk and Cleaver (this story goes places, both literally and figuratively). You are then driving across the country serving food as you go to attempt to reclaim a restaurant all your own. The story never grates and is relatively charming, but the real meat of the experience is in the kitchen. Being in a truck adds plenty of new and interesting twists to the CSD formula. Competing food trucks can catch wind of you and may take aim at your truck (literally) damaging your equipment for the day. Instead of using the lull between lunch and dinner rushes to do some dishes, you’ll take the truck from stop to stop in search of new customers. You’ll know ahead of time what is going to be ordered, so you use your prep stations to try and have as much of the upcoming orders ready by the time you get there as possible. This all while attempting to finish special orders expected by impatient customers at your stop. Having to wrap up the new orders coming in and stopping to prep more food is an exciting balancing act that requires you to truly understand what is going on to your menu before you start the day.
Like any chef could surely attest to, you’ll only get better the more you cook. When the game is at its most tense is when I’m forced to introduce new foods to my menu. When I’m able to fall back on foods that I’ve used several times, it almost comes as second nature as I call out the orders on the screen to no one in particular so I can keep this intense rhythm alive (I look really cool playing this game). I have the key bindings locked in muscle memory for French toast (S, M, U!) and I know all the bindings for the ballpark burger (meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, regular bun!). There is an excellent practice function that I use before each new menu item, but it never truly prepares you for when the heat is on and the orders are coming in. I’ve worked in food service and it does at times feel like those early days when you’re still learning the menu, and everything takes just a little bit too long. But once you’ve mastered a menu item, it feels good to quickly put it together and serve a perfect dish.
To help you out as hungry food truck patrons get more picky, you’ll be able to upgrade your truck along a skill tree that will let you unlock additional prep stations or more serving stations. Serving stations allow you to take on more customer orders at once which is a double-edged sword at times. Thankfully you can also turn those off if it is too overwhelming. The skill tree is not exhaustive, but there are fun and welcome upgrades to be had. You’re awarded a bronze, silver, or gold medal each day depending on your performance, and each upgrade helps when you are aiming for those gold medals.
Right now, CSD 3 is in Early Access, so more content is being added in the coming months. The developer has laid out a roadmap for future updates (see below) including new locations, an Iron Cook finale, and an eventual summer release date. I played countless hours of the first Cook, Serve, Delicious!, and the time I’ve spent with 3 has me ready to dive right back in. The changes are welcome and smartly implemented and the story is unusual but well-delivered and fun. At the end of the day, I’m happy to report that so far, in the early days of its Early Access debut, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! not only doesn’t muck up what made earlier entries fun, but smartly builds on it. I can’t wait for the full release, and I’m sure I’ll play plenty until then.
Keep your eye on Gaming Trend for our full thoughts upon release, but the game is off to a great start.