Chef: A Restaurant Tycoon Early Access Impressions
Starting and running your own restaurant is not an easy task -- a fact developer Inner Void makes apparent with its simulator Chef: A Restaurant Tycoon Game. Not to be confused with more casual restaurant games, Chef does its best to emulate the restaurant entrepreneur's experience , from deciding where to set up shop to the day-to-day routines of customer service and general maintenance.
At the start, players are tasked with choosing a location for their restaurant, taking into account a variety of factors including rent, what might be nearby that can affect business, and what kind of customers they'll be most likely to attract. From there they'll need to purchase equipment and furniture, decorate, build a base menu and hire staff.
As players progress, and hopefully begin making a profit, there's plenty of opportunity to improve on things and create the restaurant of their dreams.
When it comes to Chef: A Restaurant Tycoon Game, first impressions will likely be deceiving. Upon first logging in, players are greeted with an adorable intro and a fairly simple character creator for their cute chef avatar. Players can choose skin tone, preset facial features, clothing, and hair; but don't expect to be able to do full RPG-style customization.
This does make sense, however. After all, once in the game, players will have an isometric view of their restaurant, so they won't even be looking at their avatars faces anyway.
Where the depth in this game lies is in the actual management systems.
For instance: not only can players build their own menu, but they can actually create dishes to go on it. Recipe creation is much more than just throwing a few random items together and calling it a day. Recipes are important in this game, and their quality has a direct impact on the success of the restaurant.
Much like a real-world restaurant, the menu is only one factor in creating a successful business. Players will need to determine what kind of customers they want to base their business around and cater to them. This means determining how much effort to put into cleanliness, how much to spend on decor and employees, and how to advertise.
Each of the systems tied into these decisions provides players with a variety of options. For instance, if a player plans on advertising, they'll need to decide what platform to advertise on -- billboard, TV, social media, etc -- and what kind of customers to direct those ads at.
And then, of course, there's a skill system that offers players a way to improve upon existing abilities.
Effectively, there's a lot to learn in order to play the game well. The good news is that for the most part the tutorial is pretty solid.
Before we go on with this section, it's important to note that as of this writing Chef: A Restaurant Tycoon Game is currently in Early Access on Steam. According to the writeup on the Steam page, the developer doesn't plan to release the final version for about 12 months -- meaning December of 2019.
Between now and then, Inner Void plans to expand on the game, adding skill-trees for the entire staff in addition to the one that already exists for the player character, cooking challenges, more management options, and even the possibility of owning multiple restaurants.
With that said, if you're planning on picking up the game right now, there are some things to be aware of.
First, while playing the game, I've run into a few instances where the simulation just kind of stalls. The customers already in the restaurant just sit there without ordering, the waitstaff doesn't leave whatever spot they're standing in, and no one else comes in.
Twice, I had to create a whole new game in order to deal with it. By the third restaurant, I learned to save after every week summary popped up, assuring I'd have a point to go back to after a stall.
The skill menu is tricky
After spending 20+ hours in Chef, the one thing I'm still not 100% comfortable with is the skill menu for the player character. This also happens to be the only system where the game's tutorial feels lacking.
If a player uses the tutorial, it will effectively tell them that there are points that can be spent and to concentrate on the skills they want. It does not, however, explain what certain abilities are and how they can be unlocked. As a result, anyone playing may have to spend some time using trial and error to get this right. Unfortunately, once a point is used, it can't be taken back. So trial and error may result in creating more than one restaurant.
Still a really solid game
The above issues aside, Chef is a really solid game. Not only that, it's fun and it emulates the restaurant entrepreneur experience about as well as a game can. Speaking as someone who worked in the restaurant industry for years, I can honestly say it hits all the notes, particularly when it comes to customer reactions.
Even as an Early Access game, it gives players plenty of ways to customize their restaurant and really make it their own -- although it may not seem like it at first as customization options tend to open up as a restaurant becomes more successful. But, if we're honest, that's pretty much how opening a restaurant in the real world works.
Is it worth the purchase?
Before answering this, I want to state once again, the current iteration of Chef is an Early Access offering. That more or less means it's a paid beta. You get in early, but this is not the exact game you'll be playing at launch.
(It also means we won't be providing an official review score. That will have to wait until the game officially releases.)
That said, if you're okay with that, the game is already fun to play. Particularly if you're a number cruncher or a problem solver. Yes, you will have to spend some time learning some of the systems, but once you have them down you may find yourself spending hours on the game.
What's more the developers have noted that players purchasing the game during Early Access will be getting a special rate as their purchases assist the developers in their work to create the final product.
Inner void has not stated what the price of the final product will be. We do know that the Early Access price is $20, so it will be more than that.
[Disclosure: GameSkinny was provided with a review key for Chef.]