Cooking Simulator Review: Good Eats
Let's cut to the chase here: Cooking Simulator is the only real cooking game out there today.
Think about every other cooking game you're aware of. Diner Dash, Overcooked, and Cook, Serve, Delicious! are all closer to management simulators than they are reflections of what it's like to actually make a meal. Cooking Mama and its ilk may give a closer representation of what it takes to put a dish together, but they're little more than collections of minigames. Battle Chef Brigade is one of my favorite games ever, but even that distills the actual process of cooking down, turning it into a puzzle game.
The point here is that there are very, very few games about cooking that actually allow you to, well, cook. Cooking Simulator is one of them, and despite a few hiccups, it's the best one out there today.
Mise En Place
Cooking Simulator follows in the footsteps of other games with "simulator" in the title by being, at its heart, a game built to show off a sandbox-style physics engine. Like Car Mechanic Simulator and Surgeon Simulator before it, Cooking Simulator gives players a ton of opportunities for both skillful manipulation of ingredients and utensils, as well as opportunities for shenanigans. There's a dartboard for throwing knives at, as well as a note that tells you to Definitely Not Put The Fire Extinguisher In The Oven (but you totally should anyway).
Playing around in sandbox mode is a great time if you want to destroy the kitchen, but there's a lot of fun to be had in actually trying to create a perfect meal as well.
Taste, Creativity, and Presentation
The most impressive part about Cooking Simulator is that generally, it follows common-sense rules of cooking. If you put something in a pot of boiling water, not only will you cook that ingredient, but you'll also flavor the water somewhat. Meats give up fat and oil during cooking, which can then be used to flavor other ingredients. Ingredients react differently from a visual standpoint whether they're cooked on the grill, the griddle, in a pan, in the fryer, or in the oven.
All in all, this means that from the time you boot up the game, regardless of whether you're playing the campaign or just messing around in sandbox mode, the game not only allows you to be creative but encourages it.
It might be an odd parallel to draw, but it's actually a little bit reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's open world, in the way that it encourages you to discover how things interact. And better yet, most of the time, things react in a way that makes sense.
Unfortunately, the campaign takes a really long time to get rolling. To its credit, the game takes its time teaching you its mechanics, which is a huge help because you'll be trying to control tongs, spatulas, and saucepans with a mouse in ways that seem specifically designed to be more difficult than they need to be.
On one hand, this is slightly frustrating when you've spent 15 minutes making a stew and then promptly pour it all over the counter because you had trouble with depth perception. On the other hand, it's a lot of fun cooking a salmon steak you've dropped on the ground three times, serving it up, and getting full marks in judgment anyway.
All that said, it's still a bit of a shock to put six hours into the campaign serving up relatively basic recipes, then open up the sandbox mode and realize that you're only using about 12% of the ingredients the game has to offer, and you haven't even touched the food processor.
The real draw of the campaign mode, and to be honest, the game in general is that each and every one of the recipes can be recreated in real life. The only thing an aspiring chef would have to do to adapt these recipes and try them in real life is to extend the cooking time of most ingredients (and tweak temperature control — ovens and burners in the game only have on and off settings. No "roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes" here.)
As you serve dishes up, you'll get feedback on, say, if you oversalted the dish, if you burnt the vegetables, or even if you cooked the meat on the griddle instead of on the grill. You'll also get a chance to snap a screenshot of your meal, which to the game's credit, rewards you with some mouthwatering and 'grammable shots. Though the game's environments aren't all that visually arresting, the way that ingredients — particularly the meats — look as they cook is amazing.
Probably the best thing I can say about this game is that every time I finish cooking a meal, no matter how many times I've dropped it on the floor, or how many plate or bottle shards are in the bowl, or even that I forgot to cook the chicken, I want to get in my real kitchen and mess around a little bit trying out recipes.
Disappointingly, at this point, you can't really bake anything in the game, and sauces and soups aren't labeled with their dominant flavors, which is a bit of a bummer. Plus, it is just way too easy to spill stuff. At the end of the day though, as someone who really likes to cook, this game is legitimately unique in the way that it allows for, and encourages creativity in the kitchen.
- Really the only game that allows you to create a dish from start to finish
- Visually, the way that ingredients cook and come together in a dish is incredibly mouthwatering
- The way the game's rules work allows for experimentation, fun, and somehow, actual culinary learning
- Certain cooking techniques like baking are absent from the game
- Control can be awkward at times
You likely know whether this game is for you or not simply by the title and the elevator pitch. Do you want a sandbox style game that plops you in the kitchen with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ingredients and equipment and allows you to do whatever you want with them? Then yeah, buy this game. It's a no-brainer.
If you have no interest in cooking, then why are you even reading this review?
[Note: A copy of Cooking Simulator was provided by PlayWay for the purpose of this review.]