|Platforms||PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO|
|Developer||Ghost Town Games|
|Release Date||August 3, 2016|
Disclaimer: Review code provided
Overcooked begins at the end of the world. I know that might sound a little strange, given that Overcooked is a multiplayer-focused kitchen simulator, but then this is a strange game. You start out at the end of the world, desperately trying to feed an insatiable demon as much salad as you can prepare. It’s not enough, of course, and the boss man (himself a giant onion) transports you back in time to hone your culinary and teamwork skills, so that when you come across this situation again you’ll be ready for it.
Honestly, the story doesn’t really matter too much. It’s just a vague excuse for the road trip that follows. It makes a heck of an impact, though. Overcooked is all about attempting to run a kitchen, either alone or with friends. It’s actually two very different experiences depending on whether you’ve got a friend or three sitting next to you, or whether you’ve decided to brave the kitchen solo.
If you’re playing alone you’ve got control of two chefs, which you can switch between at will. You need to fill orders as they come in by combining various ingredients to make soup, burgers, pizza and whatever else your customers desire. It’s a very simple game to pick up and play, only requiring a couple of buttons. Essentially you pick an ingredient, chop it if necessary, cook it if necessary, then plate it up and serve it.
Overcooked keeps it interesting by constantly changing everything else up. Every level throws you into a kitchen with a different layout. Cookers, fryers, chopping boards, sinks and the like are all static, meaning for maximum efficiency you’ve got to quickly acclimatise yourself to constantly changing levels. Overcooked will also constantly throw curveballs at you in the form of dynamic levels – sometimes you’ll be on a boat and your benches will shift back and forth, sometimes you’ll be on the back of two trucks that aren’t always perfectly aligned, making certain areas occasionally inaccessible.
Which is fantastic in a couch multiplayer environment, but gets a little stale when you’re on your own. The campaign can be played co-operatively, thankfully, as you’ll need to complete these levels to unlock extra maps in competitive mode. Single-player is kind of a drag, fluctuating between dull and almost impossible, depending on the kitchen layout. The whole experience becomes extremely stressful, especially when later levels start introducing things like split kitchens and conveyor belts. It becomes almost too unwieldy to manage and stops being fun long before you reach the end of the world. Again.
But Overcooked really isn’t a single-player game. Gathering ingredients, chopping, cooking/frying, preparing, serving and washing dishes is too much for one person to manage. A quick trip into the co-operative and competitive modes with friends is enough to convince you that this is the way the game is meant to be played. In co-operative, kitchen management suddenly becomes a game of shouting at your friends.
Having 1-3 of your friends along for the ride, dividing up the responsibilities and barking orders at each other is one of the coolest co-op experiences I’ve had all year. Playing through the campaign alone, I found that I had topped out on the number of dishes I could make before the timer ran out. In multiplayer, we were constantly getting better and better, faster and faster, louder and louder. Playing with friends made it feasible to actually improve.
And then there’s competitive mode. It’s not quite the friendship ruiner that co-op is, but that’s only because your friends will constantly bring you lettuce instead of a tomato and seem to always manage to burn the fish. In competitive you take the same basic gameplay, only now we’re all fighting to get the highest score. And still shouting at each other, but for vastly different reasons. Overcooked is a party game and a damn good one at that. Who’d have thought that kitchen management would make an excellent game to play with friends.
The best part is that anyone can pick up and play the game, thanks to its simplicity. The game features the use of exactly two buttons – cross picks stuff up, square interacts with it (chopping, washing etc.). The only other thing you need to have a familiarity with is how to make food. Anyone can tell what a tomato looks like, or what a chopping board looks like, or basically how to prepare food. That’s the charm of Overcooked – anyone can play it, even if they don’t play games.
There are some quirks in the controls. It’s fast-paced nature forces you to go as quickly as you can, especially when your friend is yelling in your ear to fetch more onions, but the aiming can be a touch fiddly. Whichever part of the workbench you’re facing is highlighted and that’s where you’re putting stuff down, but I constantly found myself putting things on the wrong counter. Sometimes my characters would throw things instead of placing them, which led to me running a kitchen with a single plate once, after somehow throwing one of only two that we had over the sink instead of into it.
Playing Overcooked alone is a vastly different, and inferior, experience to playing it with friends. In fact I’d advise you not to bother playing solo. Overcooked is a slightly dull, poorly balanced single-player affair. It is also one of the best party games of recent memory. Getting your friends together to try and run the kitchen is fun enough, even though you run the risk of ruining your friendships. It gets even more enjoyable as the game becomes more chaotic – dynamic environemnts, huge mixtures of food and ingredients and the general chaos that ensues whenever four people try to work together to accomplish one task. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
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