Chef - Full Release Review

I first came across Chef shortly before it entered early access and reviewed it back then.  My verdict at the time was to wait for updates.  So now that the game has reached it's 1.0 release let's jump back in and see what's changed in the last 18 months.

Chef is a tycoon game by Italian developers Inner Void and published by Digital Tribe and sees you start from nothing and build your restaurant empire!  You need to manage the various aspects of you restaurant from setting the menu, devising new recipes and ensuring there are staff available.  You will also need to cater to diverse clientele.

My immediate experience upon launching the game for the first time following release was for the game to hang and crash back to my desktop with an app not responding message before it had even loaded me into the main menu.  After a couple of attempts I managed to load into the game to be greeted with a message advising that this isn't the end of the road for Chef, however any save files from prior to version 0.9 are now no longer playable (not unusual for early access games).

Customising my avatar
I took the opportunity to start a new game in light of this and started with the familiar character creation screen which existed before.  This allows you to choose from 13 bodies and then select from a variety of hairstyles and colours, and expressions.  You also select your difficulty here from Normal, Hardcore, Relaxed and Sandbox.  Hardcore and Relaxed modify the base game difficulty as you would expect with the former being more difficult and the latter more relaxed.  The Sandbox mode is one of those games where they don't see sandbox as complete creative freedom.  

Starting into the sandbox version (new for the full release) you are given a budget of $100,000,000 so whilst not a 'true' sandbox, it is a huge amount of cash.  Another limitation of the sandbox game is that you don't have access to the full repertoire of ingredients or recipes and require to gain experience and unlock these as you go.  A nice touch, however, is that you can still play through the tutorial if you wish to in this mode.  Unfortunately this mode just doesn't hit the mark with me as it doesn't actually fit the definition of a sandbox and is more of a challenge or career type mode and appears no different to the standard game modes with a massive budget, achievements are even available allowing you to achieve the True Tycoon achievement for bank balance just by hitting play.

Deciding where to begin building my empire
For the bulk of my review I decided to play in the Normal game mode.  The immediate thing I notice is that the menu for selecting your first restaurant has been completely redesigned.  Rather than simply being a menu where you browse listings of available properties, you are now presented with a city map from which to choose your starting block.  Each of the sites has a variety of modifiers which will affect how you will manage your restaurant.  These can have negative effects such as rat infestations at night, suffers from old and unreliable wiring or being haunted, or positive effects such as higher traffic in the area, lower rent due to being outwith the city or a nearby amusement park attracting a wider variety of customers.  Each location also has a preference of the customers who will visit from cheapskates wanting a cheap, low quality meal, to vegans, foodies and even gourmet connoisseurs who have high budgets, but specific requirements.

After selecting your first restaurant you will receive a confirmation box which reminds you that you will be able to buy a new restaurant in the future, however that will depend on how successful you are.  After arriving at the restaurant you are asked whether you want to play the tutorial or not.  I would recommend playing through it as there are some quite complex aspects to the game and they aren't always the most intuitive.

The basic setup for my dining hall
The first course of business is to start furnishing your restaurant.  Remember your budget whilst you do this as you don't want to blow all your cash in the initial phase and not be able to afford staff of ingredients.  During this phase you are asked to place enough decorations to lure cheapskates.  This was something I particularly struggled with until I discovered the three icons in the top left which indicate you current decoration in relation to the themes of rustic, modern and elegant.  Hovering the cursor over these will show you how each of these themes will attract the various types of customer.

What would a restaurant be without food?  You need to create and manage your menu to attract a variety of customers, but also make you money.  In the menu screen you simply drag an available recipe from your list into the menu.  An important not here is that when a menu item is added to the menu it displays the cost price so you will want to increase these to allow you to have an income.  You can also easily see what equipment your kitchen is missing as the equipment icon will be red instead of an off-white colour.  Your final course of business before opening is to hire your waiting staff and any additional chefs to help you in the kitchen.  

Setting up my first menu
Once you are happy with your setup you can open your restaurant.  This is done through the decisions and policies menu.  These are very similar to the policies you would see in city builder games and determining your cleaning regimes, staff salaries and advertising budget across a variety of media.  Select the option to open your restaurant, un-pause the game and wait.  Then wait, and wait a bit more.  At this point your restaurant is going to be running itself with staff directing guests to tables and preparing/serving food automatically.  This is the bulk of the day-to-day management for the game unfortunately.  From time to time you may get a review on Chef Advisor.  These will act as a guide to indicate how well you are doing in terms of prices, menu variety and generally keeping your guests happy.

The aspect of the game which should be the most fun is in the designing of your own recipes.  This system works by selecting an unlocked template and combining your available ingredients to make an acceptable recipe.  As you add new ingredients you will see feedback regarding the flavour profile and an overall score for the dish.  Sometimes it is clear what is influencing the score, for example using chicken and bacon together increases your score as they complement each other, other times it can be quite confusing.  For example there is a blanket trait if you use a vegetable in a dessert it gets the "wait what?" tag.  This means that converting a simple sponge to a carrot cake actually results in a penalty to your dish score.  For me, this aspect of the game just didn't feel as fun as I had expected unfortunately.

Designing a tasty pasta dish
After playing about and making a couple of recipes, fitting out your kitchen with some more equipment and adjusting your menu offering and prices there is just a lot of waiting about in the game.  Eventually you will gain skill points which you can use to improve your staff, or unlock new recipe templates.  You will also have points to spend in the ingredients screen to unlock new ingredients, or higher quality versions of ingredients you already have access to.

On paper this box ticks all the boxes for me - it's a tycoon game, restaurant isn't a theme that's been done over and over, it's got gorgeous cutesy graphics and has a nice variety of game systems.  The game, however, just doesn't press my buttons.  My main complaint is that it just doesn't feel like there is any consequence to deal with.  I mostly get positive reviews, I have a cashflow coming in but there is just a lot of waiting.  Once I've set up my tables and kitchen it just runs itself.  I don't feel like I am having to react to anything and the lack of any clear defined objectives just make the game feel a bit flat for me.  And whilst a lot of tycoon games run themselves, Cities Skylines, Planet Coaster, RollerCoaster Tycoon, I don't feel like I'm lacking in things to do to occupy me.
Chef Restauruant Tycoon Customers
Welcoming my first guests
Chef basic cake
A basic sponge cake recipe
Chef Carrot Cake
A Carrot cake recipe which is worse than a plain sponge
Chef Decisions and Policies
The decisions and policies menu where you can set wages, advetising budgets and more.
Chef Skills Tree
The skills research tree screen
Chef Ambience
Ambience tooltip for the Rustice ambience, indicating how this theme arrects the various types of customer.
My previous verdict was to wait for updates and to be honest, I don't feel that the game has changed enough for me to be saying to rush out and get it as it does still feel very similar.  Whilst I can see how some people could enjoy the game, right now, I'd say save your money and to give it a miss based on the 1.0 release.  The game is available now on Steam for £15.49

Chef - Full Release Review Chef - Full Release Review Reviewed by Parcival on August 25, 2020 Rating: 5

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