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May 2021

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Management
Developer: Vertigo Games
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2020


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Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!'

by Cody Medellin on April 14, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Cook, serve and manage your food truck as you dish out hundreds of different foods across war-torn America in this massive sequel to the million-selling series!

The first Cook, Serve, Delicious game transformed what would have been a simple cooking game into an involved and frantic experience that was a lot of fun as a solo experience — and even more fun in its eventual multiplayer expansion. You might have automatically cooked things well, but the tension came from deciding quickly what to serve and when to do it while also trying to save a restaurant and become a celebrity chef. The second game repeated the formula with more recipes and the ability to manage more than just the cooking. For the third game, aptly titled Cook, Serve, Delicious 3, you'd expect the same thing with even more food. Given the game's Early Access status, what you probably didn't expect is such a refined experience.

Like the previous titles, CSD3 has an offbeat story. The year is 2042, and America is in dire straits due to wars, global warming, and other catastrophes. Before you know it, the tower where your restaurant is located is blown up while you're inside. Two salvage robots, Whisk and Cleaver, are sent to retrieve bodies, but they discover that you're alive. As fans of your work, one of the robots convinces the other to help you rebuild your restaurant business in the form of a food truck. Soon, you're on your way to a food truck competition in America's new capital of Nashville.

If you haven't played any of the previous titles in the series, then you're in for something unusual yet familiar. You start off each level by deciding exactly which dishes to cook. Even though some levels may have requirements like limiting yourself to fried foods or including foods to give your overall menu a minimum score level, it feels empowering to determine which foods to cook. Before you reach any one of your stops, you can start preparing dishes that fall into one of two categories. Some dishes can be prepared in batches to serve multiple people, while others need to be prepared for one person at a time. Once you make it to the stop, you serve the dishes, cook more as needed, and repeat the process through multiple stops until your run through the level ends.

That may sound like every other cooking game, but the gimmick is that the cooking process is more about adding ingredients than perfecting techniques. Making chicken nuggets requires you to select the dish, hit one key on your keyboard to put the nuggets in the fry basket, hit another key to dunk the nuggets in oil, and wait for the timer to finish so they're ready to serve. Other dishes like pancit may have you putting the noodles, shrimp and vegetables in the frying pan and leaving it alone; more complicated dishes like poutine have you making the fries first and then adding the gravy and cheese curds before it's served. It can quickly go from simple to complicated, and every one of these actions requires the press of several different keys per dish. It gets to the point where you're using every key on the keyboard to cook every possible dish, and only a few keys are multitaskers. In a way, this is a fast typing game, minus the ability to type anything that makes sense.

Compared to the last two games, there are a number of changes in CSD3 that tighten up the experience. The only thing you have to worry about is cooking. Gone are tasks like cleaning up or handling the business side of food services, and with no side dishes to create, you can devote your time to the main dishes and a few desserts. Serving food is also easier thanks to your robot pals; a quick hit of the CTRL key serves up everything that's ready, so fewer keystrokes are needed to clear the queue. There is one change that makes sense thematically but is meant to make things more difficult, and that's the arrival of enemy food trucks that will shoot at you. This results in stops where some of your preparation slots are disabled until your next major run.

The addition of these elements ratchets up the gameplay. Traveling to multiple stops in a run gives the game a bigger strategy element, since you must decide when to prepare some of the dishes so they don't spoil before someone orders it. The timer for each order goes by at a fast clip, so you need to think quickly about what needs to get prepared immediately while also watching everything else to make sure something doesn't burn or get accidentally served too soon. Couple that with dishes that have multiple variations, and you need to pay attention to everything instead of punching out something that you've memorized. It can be a stressful experience, but like the older titles, there's a pull to return from defeat, and it's helped out by the short time spent in each level. You can easily spend large chunks of time playing CSD3 without realizing it until someone points it out.

The solo mode can be daunting for those who have a tough time thinking on their feet, but the game features two other modes. The first is co-op mode, which lets you play with a friend locally either with a gamepad or a mouse. Compared to the keyboard, these options don't let you prepare and cook the dishes as quickly as the keyboard, but the extra set of hands is helpful. For those who want a less stressful experience, the game offers Chill mode, which can be played solo or co-op; it's the same experience as normal mode, minus the enemy food truck attacks and timers. You can only earn silver medals instead of gold, but this ensures that players can still see the whole game without fretting over not getting the food to everyone.

The game is already packed with content, but the roadmap calls for a few more exciting developments. More levels are a given, and there's mention in the main menu of truck upgrades coming soon. More importantly, there are more dishes to come, as well as descriptions of existing dishes, so those who want a quick history of the dish they're preparing can use this as a quick Wikipedia of sorts. The development team has been diligent about these content additions in a short amount of time, so the game feels very active when compared to other Early Access titles.

The presentation remains a highlight. The voices of Havana Mahoney and negaoryx as your robot companions are superb and give the game a relaxing atmosphere even when you're getting shot at. The music is calming even when you're missing orders due to your slow reaction time. What remains the highlight are the pictures of the food. Whether they're real pictures or artistic renditions, every dish looks so tempting that you'll be driven to hunger in a short amount of time.

Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 may have just launched in Steam Early Access, but it has already proven itself to be solid. The gameplay remains frantic but fun, while the heightened focus on cooking and the addition of a quick-serve button makes this the friendliest experience yet for newcomers and veterans alike. With the team producing more content at a steady stream, buying CSD3 seems like a rare safe bet for Early Access.

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