We’ve seen plenty of simulation games lately, providing gamers the opportunity to embark on roles as bus drivers, train operators and even a deadly hunter; but now it’s time to head into the kitchen to rustle up some food with Cooking Simulator. Having always been fond of the culinary arts, merely hearing about the sheer concept of Cooking Simulator is music to my ears. As such, it’s arrival on Xbox One has tickled those taste buds and I’m ready to cook up a storm. Is Cooking Simulator a Michelin star style experience though, or will it turn out as something more akin to Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares?
Well, despite possessing some of the necessary ingredients that would be quintessential for creating a simulation game, the final product will most likely end up leaving a bad taste on your palate.
Cooking Simulator is, as you’ve no doubt figured out, a simulation game involving the preparation and cooking of food. Originally developed by Big Cheese Studio for PC, they’ve decided to bring it over to Xbox One in the hopes of serving up a tasty treat to the wider market. There are four modes included in total, with Career Mode, Cooking School, Leaderboard Challenge, and Sandbox Mode all available from the get-go.
Naturally, the Cooking School appears the ideal place to kick-start our new profession, where a Gordon Ramsay looking avatar will guide you through a series of six lessons. The pacing here is completely off though, with half of them covering miniscule tasks separately – like cutting and seasoning – that are over swiftly. But then in another lesson there’s an entire meal to prep and cook, before the mode climaxes with a rushed ‘tour’ of everything else that’s in the kitchen environment. Remember it, or don’t, nobody seems to care.
While the lessons ensure you’re aren’t going into the Career Mode totally blind, it does feel like a half-arsed attempt. Thankfully then, there is a bit of hand-holding available in the career. You find out this is the big chance to show off how good a chef you are by turning a run-down restaurant into a five-star success. Each day you’ll have to fulfil a few customer orders and, in return, receive grades and cash for your efforts. Through earning reputation and money, your business will grow and more lucrative recipes will become available. There are a number of perks and skills to garner as well, offering various bonuses to ‘make life easier’, but that’s yet to be proven in my experience.
Initially, there’ll be a handy checklist on-screen for the recipe you’re attempting to recreate, which is much appreciated. Take a classic tomato soup as an example; the individual ingredients are listed, the quantities in weight, cooking time and instructions to blend. After a couple of days on the job it wants you to keep bringing up the recipes manually and that’s very time-consuming – not ideal when there’s a clock ticking on every order. While memorising the necessary stages is possible for a selection of dishes, as more are unlocked, that becomes virtually impossible.
In terms of recipes though, the sheer range in Cooking Simulator’s is certainly impressive by featuring soups, pasta dishes, complex burgers, steaks, fish and more. The trickier a meal is to make, the more likely a profit is going to be heading into your pocket, unless you mess it up of course. Possibly the only slight disappointment is a lack of desserts on the menu to sweeten proceedings. Nevertheless, with around 70 different recipes to master, there’s decent variety at least.
Not that it’ll matter too much as you’ll no doubt get frustrated long before acquiring even half of them. The problem is, the pressure of hitting time-related targets is accentuated by god awful controls and ridiculous physics. Given that precision is paramount in cooking, it’s baffling how pouring any liquids often leads to major spillages because of the oversensitive nature. Aiming the cursor at food items is finicky too, which causes temperatures to rise and the air to turn blue. As far as using a controller is concerned, there’s room for a lot of improvement.
I’m not sure what could be done about the physics though, with lemons, onions, potatoes and other foods often behaving like jumping beans. A simple task like putting a potato on a plate should lead to no hassle, however it’s pot luck as to whether it reaches its destination or just flops to the ground. It’s also a nightmare when blending and the items are flying through the big pot, as there are countless times where things go awry. The most bizarre moment saw a plate smash and an oven door ripped off after a minor collision between the two, rendering the oven useless until fixed.
Another way in which the developers have over-complicated matters is by adding depth to the cooking mechanics, without really explaining it. Quite often, single components of a pan can burn while the rest is still cooking, but that aspect isn’t taught nor how to solve such a problem from arising.
Once you’ve realised that Career Mode is essentially the quickest way to have a meltdown, there are two other options. The Sandbox Mode lets you go wild and allows any of the recipes to be practiced at your own pace – or you can just smash a load of plates while deep frying a gas canister, it’s your call. For the hardcore chefs, Leaderboard Challenge sees you take on any meal in the hopes of pulling it off and setting a high score online. That’s your lot unfortunately and if the career does nothing for you, then the rest won’t be any more enjoyable.
Cooking Simulator on Xbox One sets the tone by cutting corners in the learning phases and that really doesn’t help budding chefs. The Career Mode could’ve been a redeeming feature, after all, it’s got longevity, a fairly straightforward reward system that acts as a carrot on a stick, and a recipe list that adds variety. It’s such a shame the difficulty ramps up almost instantly, with unforgiving time limits and outrageous physics ruining the atmosphere. The controls aren’t great either, highlighting that sometimes games don’t transfer well to consoles.
It doesn’t matter how hungry you are, Cooking Simulator won’t satisfy your appetite.