Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! Early Access Impressions: Deliciously Prepared
Oh no. There's a horde of hungry patrons standing outside the window.
Four of them want frozen bananas, which I have plenty of in the freezer. But two of them want an extremely complicated ramen dish, and two others want labor-intensive bahn mi sandwiches, which have to be prepped at a holding station.
Of course, as soon as any of them are served, another group of patrons will pop up and demand something completely new and, perhaps, just as labor-intensive. No rest for the wicked, they say.
This is the world of Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!, the game about food that has a title as elaborate as its most involved dish.
Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! Early Access Impressions:
Don't let the cartoonish look of Cook Serve Delicious 3 fool you. It's a cooking sim that will throw the kitchen table at you, forcing split-second recollection and careful time management. This is a series that keeps you spinning plates for as long as you can. Inevitably, some of them are going to fall.
Luckily, Cook Serve games still manage to stay fun even when disgruntled customers are walking away with the wrong orders. And that's still the case with Cook Serve 3.
Here's how it works: you are the chef, and you have a food truck. Every day, you hit the road to serve the hungry masses. You design the menu based off of a few specific parameters (maybe a certain style of food, or a point value difficulty for the entire menu) and try to survive the rush as dozens of people order food from you.
For all its complexity, it takes a few simple keystrokes to make food in Cook Serve Delicious 3. For example, you make a cheese papusa by hitting "D" to place the dough, "L" to flatten it, "C" to place the cheese, "F" to fold the dough over, and "Enter" to cook. After about 10 seconds, it's ready to serve. Easy, right?
Making one certainly is. But then six people want papusas. And they don't all want cheese. Some want pork. Or chicken. Or beans. And they are all ordering at the same time.
The difficulty here isn't necessarily making the food, it's the analyzation required to who is closest to walking away from the window angrily telling their friends to never order from the Cook Serve Delicious food truck again.
The Best Kind of Stress
Consequently, playing Cook Serve Delicious 3 can be extremely stressful, but it always manages to stay entertaining. The food truck setting means you get little breaks in the action as you drive from one stop to the next, giving you a bit of time between adrenaline spikes (and replicating the lunch and dinner rushes from previous games).
You'll still have things to do as you move from stop to stop, too, like replenishing holding stations and setting up meals you know you'll need. Despite being on the move, Cook Serve 3 does a good job of replicating the real-world restaurant experience of the calm before the storm.
It helps that getting dialed in and really learning all of the game's dishes cooks up a delicious dopamine rush. Cook Serve Delicious 3 has a way of getting you in that transcendent, reactive gaming zone.
By being able to customize the menu (and switch back and forth between "Standard" and "Chill" difficulties at will), you can also easily determine how stressful you're going to make things. It can be great to slow things down when you're trying some new dishes, then ramp it up to see if you can handle the heat.
An Evolving Menu
While the core gameplay of Cook Serve Delicious 3 is the same as we've seen in past iterations, changing settings does bring some other welcome modifications to the game, mostly in its presentation and story.
Set in the future where it seems corporate restaurants have essentially taken over the world, the massive tower that houses your restaurant is blown up (!), destroying everything inside. A pair of robot ambulance drivers named Whisk and Cleaver (!!) come to pick through the wreckage and look for survivors, finding you. Logically, they turn their ambulance into a food truck so you can continue bringing your culinary masterpieces to the world.
To say it's... bizarre ... is an understatement.
However, Whisk and Cleaver are more than just plot elements: they also help you serve the hungry people. Though you can still serve directly as in the old games, you can also tap a single key and your robot staff will hand out dishes at the ready. This addition is a lifesaver when the rush shows no sign of slowing, providing you a tiny bit of respite in an otherwise stressful gameplay loop.
In addition, Whisk and Cleaver are both fully voiced, warning you of upcoming stops as you prepare dishes and offering advice while food is being served. It's fairly helpful, as you don't have to stop and read while focusing on prepping your dishes.
Finally, the food truck focus allows the developers to bring in some extremely esoteric dishes. Cook Serve Delicious 3 has a massive selection of both street cuisine and regular dishes from all over the world. Sure, you could dish up pretzels, chicken strips, and pizza, but it could also be interesting to put chakalaka, rote grutze, sisig, and medovik on the menu to see how everything goes.
If you're an interested foodie, there's also a description of each dish, including its country of origin and the basics of how it's made. You could bring some of your in-game ideas home to try out!
Even though Cook Serve Delicious 3 is only in Early Access, the game itself is in a pretty good state. I didn't encounter any stability issues or game-breaking bugs in my time with it.
Some of the content isn't quite there yet — some of the dishes are listed but cant' be prepared, and some of the areas and features have yet to be implemented. But the game makes these omissions clear. Vertigo Gaming has a pretty good track record of being transparent with their community and providing plenty of (free) content updates to the CSD series, so this shouldn't be a big issue.
In essence, the biggest Cook Serve Delicious 3's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness: it's more Cook Serve Delicious. The series has shown surprising longevity, and its blend of interesting customization and face-paced gameplay remains strong.
On top of all that, it will make you hungry — some of the dishes look really yummy, even in the game's cartoonish art style. It's clear that the designers of Cook Serve Delicious 3 have a love for food and food culture, and hope to impart that love on its players.
If you've already cracked the first two games and need another CSD fix, we can't recommend Cook Serve Delicious 3 enough. Don't fear the Early Access label on this one.