Review: Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
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The original Cook, Serve, Delicious! had you toiling away in a rags-to-riches tale of culinary success, assuming you could get a grip on the cooking and deal with the glacial progression. Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! upped the antes across the board, offering you your own restaurant to build up, others to temp at, and a litany of absurdly difficult foods to cook and manage. Where does the series go from there? It seems the folks behind these deviously delightful games have finally zeroed in on a formula that completely works, cutting away the cruft that developed around CSD2 and punching up the progression from CSD1. Wrapped in a madcap tale of a future gone awry, this is easily the pinnacle of the series no matter how you slice it.
The year is 2042, America is at war, and your restaurant in the Teragon Supertower is a five-star world-class establishment. Or it was, until it got blown up with the rest of the tower. You are the sole survivor, rescued by a pair of emergency response androids who recognize you and offer to get you back on your feet. They offer their van up as a food truck, and whisk you away on a whirlwind tour of this new America to serve its people and rebuild your reputation. As you gather funds to upgrade the truck, you learn of a food truck championship to be held in the new national capital of Nashville, Tennessee, the perfect opportunity for you to reclaim your place at the pinnacle of the culinary world. But it’s going to be a lot of work getting there, and not everyone who approaches your truck will be looking for a meal.
The story is one hell of a curveball if you weren’t paying attention to the emails in the previous two games, but it provides a much-needed shakeup for the setting and your establishment. Functionally, the food truck operates much like your restaurant from CSD2, starting you off with seven prep stations and four holding stations. However, instead of days, your shifts are distinct levels on the map that you can retry any time. Each level has a different array of food for you to build a menu out of, with different requirements for quantity and challenge level. Foods are very clearly labeled with a difficulty rating from 0 to 5, if they need or can use a holding station, and often come in diverse thematic groups so you can build your menu however you want for the trip.
Once you set off, you’ll have a number of stops you have to make. Prior to arriving at each stop, you’ll have a menu telling you how many of each of your holding station foods will be needed. This allows you to plan ahead and prepare as many meals as possible, but you’ll also be getting special orders during this time from your short order menu. Much of the challenge this time around is in the planning and preparation, because the actual serving is smartly boiled down to just the rushes at each stop. If your timing and planning is on point, each stop will be tricky but manageable. Foul up your prep, and you haven’t got a prayer of filling all your orders. There are some additional improvements to help you handle the chaos, like a shortcut key for serving everything that’s ready to go at once, dedicated keys for your holding stations, and truck upgrades that can shore up the weak points of your system.
It’s honestly a brilliant system once you come to grips to the new structure. All the downtime between lunch and dinner rushes has been eliminated, chores are gone, and the holding station system has become a focus for strategic planning. Breaking the game into levels lets you focus your efforts where you want for better medals, which unlock new levels and a clear path of progression. Beyond that, foods are cheap enough that you can always pick out what you want, and there are so many that it’ll take you ages to collect and learn them all. Those insanely hard recipes from CSD2 are back, but streamlined a little and more clearly labeled so you can work up to them as you like. All the things that felt tedious or directionless about the previous games have been tuned up and combined into a single, polished package.
My only warning is that this one can somehow be even more stressful than the last two. Learning where and when to prep for a stop, and shifting gears to keep the food flowing during a stop, are challenges with a significant learning curve. And just when you start to get a groove, the game will throw new complications at you like enemy food trucks with serious firepower. For those times when you’re not up for a stressful shift, any level can be played in Chill mode which eliminates all the timers, and the only drawback is that you can’t get gold medals for perfect performance (which you don’t need for basic progression anyway). There’s upwards of a hundred levels in right now, and countless foods to serve across them, and these features can only expand as the game works its way through Early Access. Even now, though, this is hands-down the best of the series, and a title that fans of the previous games or even newcomers cannot miss.