I am always intrigued by the pull of simulation games. I think if you are an elder millennial like myself, it started with The Sims and blossomed from there. We are all apparently so fascinated with the idea of living through the eyes of another career, a day in the life, or simply playing God. There have been a ton of cooking games, from Cooking Mama to Overcooked. Now let me present a more realistic time in the kitchen, Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator.
I’ve always had a bit of an affinity towards restaurant games. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being a chef (not because I think chef’s do a rubbish job but simply because I have the utmost respect for the heat and stress that you encounter). Whilst I couldn’t take the heat in a real kitchen I do like to give it a good go with a controller. Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator not only brings some realism to that heat and stress one may encounter, it also brings the opportunity to manage your own dining room experience.
Starting off strong, you will be able to create your own character, with choices for hair, facial features, the size of your body, and designing your very own chef whites. Chef Whites can come in white (obviously) but there is an option for a more modern day twist with different colours. You will also have the chance to pick a brand logo for your restaurant that can appear on your whites.
Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator, starts you in a pretty lengthy but absolutely necessary tutorial. You will need to learn how to prepare, cook, and plate food whilst also learning how to manage your kitchen and dining space. If that wasn’t enough you will also need to manage stock levels, order ingredients, remember to throw out out-of-date ingredients, and eventually manage staff. Your aim for the game is to become the next Michelin Star restaurant in town.
Managing your kitchen and dining space can be done through many customisation items or necessary equipment that will require adding to your kitchen arsenal. After the tutorial, you are completely on your own. You will have access to a recipe book, where you can choose to learn different meals based on your skill level and knowledge points. Skill levels come from doing good services and gaining points from money and tips earned from the end of the night. Knowledge points are gathered by serving dishes and cooking new dishes can be used to unlock new recipes to learn.
Dishes can be executed at a higher standard if the player remembers to get seasoning and adding this to the right step. Although the tutorial does a semi-decent job of explaining most things, it did feel like a steep difficulty curve out in the wild. There are no reminders to flip the steak, season in the right place, and stir your jus that would be very helpful to know along the way. This is similar to when a parent says ‘I’ll tell you once and I won’t tell you again’. I am many hours in, and many dishes in and I still don’t understand how to cook a steak to a customer’s liking because I accidentally skipped it, and there is nothing to remind me, not even in the recipe book. This feels like an odd decision to make, because there is simply so much to remember that the absence of details like this from the recipe book seems a bit odd. In some dishes, saucepans and woks may need to be hot first before adding ingredients, and there are tiny pictures in the corner of your screen to remind you of this, but there are also symbols hours in I still can’t decipher the meaning of.
On the Chopping Block
In Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator players must make any dish at least once before placing this on the menu. There are so many different types of dishes, from gastro, fine dining, bistro; the list goes on. The opportunity to tailor your type of restaurant is up to you. Your earned money will be down to a better execution of the dish. From memory you make a pretty simple dish to start, and I am pretty sure this was a simple steak and chips. Your kitchen is well kitted-out to begin with starting you off with everything you need until you are ready to level up.
The details of each dish will take many steps to come together. For example, the meat is not already cut, and therefore this will require you taking the beef joint out of the fridge, carrying it over to the correct prep area, playing butcher and then moving onto veg. Back to the fridge you go, whilst collecting the right ingredients, cutting shallots, cutting potatoes, frying potatoes, etc. I make this sound like every other chef or restaurant game for now. There are many in the market and although some may have elements of things I will talk about here, I do believe that Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator really does encompass a lot of realism. Although you are not graded on how well you may chop something, or how long you blend ingredients as these are usually a simple swipe of your analog stick, you are very much tested upon the cooking components.
Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator will even go as far as making sure you put any already cooked items under a warmer. If you keep these in your inventory, they’ll go cold and it will cost you a mean comment from a patron and your tip. Your recipe book is always available if you walk over to it, and there are prompts in the corner, but they’re not always the most helpful in remembering absolutely everything.
Something that Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator truly captures is the stress that bubbles along in a kitchen. If you’re looking for a cosy cooking game, this is not it. I truly related to that feeling where you can cook something once and it happens extremely slowly, and then the more you cook it the more your very ”bish bash bosh, let’s get this show on the road”. It took many days not to get my first few dishes changed on the menu, because I was just getting used to all the elements I had to remember. This almost feels like a job itself, with you, the player needing to remember your next move. When cooking a dish enough you will have the opportunity to upgrade it and this usually consists of a deeper range of ingredients to use, or a different method of preparation. At times I felt like I had just finally got the hang of a dish, and would delay the upgrade just so I had a good balance of skill level on my menu that I could handle a service.
Time is Money
Once your restaurant finally opens you will have the opportunity to add and remove dishes from the menu as well as prep food for your evening service. Like most chefs working in restaurants, you will get time to prep. This is a great opportunity that if you have any fancy dishes you can actually store some of the components in the fridge, or on the warmer. The only restriction is that you will not be able to plate until service. I felt at times, I did more maths than I really wanted too, working out how much space I had in the fridge to prep, estimating work what might be ordered, and what is a pain in the bum to cook instantly. Space is limited so there really is an element of guessing. Once the timer runs out, you will have no access to the rest of the kitchen and you will have to open the doors for service. What the game doesn’t tell you straight away is that anything left in your inventory, on the counter, or if it is in a bowl on the warmer, this will be disposed of by the time your service starts. Do you want to know how I figured that out? I bet you can’t guess.
I did become frustrated at times with the controls during the prep section. I would have everything under control, almost like smooth machinery and then accidentally take the spaghetti out of the boiling pot, instead of picking up the whole pot. This may seem minor, but this now means whatever I just did has been wasted, pots can go under the warmer, ingredients in a bowl can not.
I also had a moment where I had ordered the wrong amount of stock, I spent alot of time trying to fix it, and just like in real life – there is no reset button. You can not just ‘restart the day’. Suck it up buttercup and get prepping. I’ve said before that this game weirdly makes you feel a certain kind of anxiety. This is a game that takes concentration. Repetitive cooking is key, some steps are really intricate and will only become easier with practice.
However, if you don’t like that kind of anxiety or you just want to play around with food and service dishes, and this game sounds fun but your not here for the challenge, there are options to turn off failing dishes, to turn down the amount of customers coming into service, and also have customers be able to wait an unlimited amount of time and always be happy.
As I am much further into the game now, my personal menu choices are chosen by ‘how much of a pain in the bum is that to cook’. So to be able to fully explore the menu and the cooking and not feel pressured with time, this may be something I continue to the game in, as this game is a lot of fun.
Occasionally, random events will happen, like a rat infestation or a problem with stock and players can make decisions which will impact their responsibility for the wellbeing of their staff. Staff can become tired of doing the same job so it is important to balance and manage staff needs. Eventually staff can become your line cooks, and help you prep food in service. This is a bit arduous at first to get them to a level where they can actually do something pretty helpful as opposed to just cutting balls of mozzarella. I resorted to giving them a job no matter if it was needed or not just to be able to level up. It becomes extremely handy once they become a suitable level to help you with certain dish components that you don’t have to faff with, making the game more enjoyable.
Compliments to the
Budding chefs can also indulge in showing their creativity by plating food. Players can enter an editor where different components can be placed, or presented differently on the plate. Sauces can be smeared or drizzled in multiple ways. This is really fun to do and adds that individuality for each player when cooking as the character will always plate it in the way that is saved. Although it adds a really nice touch, the controls are a bit of a faff. There were multiple times it wouldn’t move on from the item I had placed. When attempting to stack chips in a fancy stack, it either wouldn’t accept my placement, or if a chip fell, it wouldn’t let me edit or pick up that specific chip, meaning I would have to start completely over. It’s fun when it’s over, but frustrating while doing the task.
There were not many problems I ran into other than my own anxiety or faffing getting in the way. I did encounter a problem with the blender that consistently said I had no space to put anything into it, despite having very little in my inventory and the blender not showing any ingredients to place in the blender. The only fix I found to this was deleting the blender and re-placing it in the kitchen. However this would happen at random times, and so if it all went wrong in service, it had the opportunity to scupper that whole meal if anyone ordered it and I had run out of previously prepared items.
Overall, I am having a lot of fun with Chef Life: The Restaurant Simulator. I’ve always loved the look of when The Sims cook, and it really reminds me of a game that just encompasses that. There is that element of stress that replicates the real world activity but also incorporates the satisfaction and relief when everything goes well. The game remains constantly interesting with challenges and staff requests on the side of the main story, and an assortment of design options to show off individual creativity both in and out of the kitchen.
Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator captures both the stress, gratification, and realism of the heat in the kitchen. With the opportunity to juggle many different knives at once, such as prepping, managing staff, and cooking, there’s a lot to this game. Players can show individual creativity through plate and restaurant design, or focus simply on the meal. It’s a solid addition to the many different cooking games within the simulation genre.
Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator is out now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Developers: Cyanide Studio
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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