Cook Serve Delicious is the perfect cooking simulator series. It so faithfully recreates the harrowing experience of working in the food service industry, it will destroy all culinary aspirations you may have ever had.
Be ready to be disabused of your food truck fantasies all over again. The series is now back for its third installment, with an Early Access version debuting on Jan. 29. I was able to get my hands on a build several days before, and so far, the adjustments are promising. The first two games were admittedly rough but they demonstrated enormous progress between their releases. Similarly, Cook Serve Delicious! 3?! addresses some key complaints. It also adds features that bring balance and strategic consideration, as well as a sense of lively cohesion between orders.
Returning fans will find that Cook Serve Delicious! 3?! exhibits more structure, with an angle that offers better categorization to the levels and recipes. Players are on a trip across the country in their newly acquired food truck, a fresh premise that fits perfectly with the games’ signature frenzied pacing. As you make your way across the United States, you’ll be placed in individual regions with a number of routes. Each route is comprised of a few levels with different themes, which dictate the recipes you’re able to put on your menu for that round. The player prepares to-go orders and holding station foods by pressing in the correct sequence of keyboard buttons at the prompt, while managing their temperature, pick-up times and freshness. Successful completion awards medals based on performance, which are then used to move on through each location.
Cook Serve Delicious! 3?! is the ideal opportunity to address some of the lingering issues with the series, mainly the vast gap between its difficulty and learnability. Whereas the previous games threw you into the deep end without a lot of warm-up, it has both a tutorial and a way to practice each dish individually. Before each level, the player must select their menu from a list of available recipes, which are assigned a number indicating its difficulty. From the recipes’ card, you can both purchase and practice it, giving you a chance to get familiar with the basic keyboard sequences before the chaos. The recipes’ difficulty levels are also used to create an element of strategic consideration by requiring a certain number of points per menu. It’s challenging to find a balance of foods that are easy to manage but also help you reach your menu requirements.
Other improvements include food truck upgrades that give the vehicle new perks like extra prep and holding stations or The Juvenator, an item that refreshes holding station food between stops. The recipes themselves remain consistent, but there are a few flourishes of innovation in some of the newer items. The button sequences have a better flow, and there are more time-based challenges based on the sensitivity of your cooking, for example; a well-done steak takes much longer to cook than a rare one and doesn’t have to be served as quickly. While the pick-up time on some of the dishes is too short, the game has improved its balance. I’ve already earned four medals for perfect performance, even though I struggled to get them in Cook Serve Delicious! 2!!.
I didn’t think an early build of Cook Serve Delicious! 3?! would be sophisticated enough to pull me away from its predecessor, but the team’s visible commitment to improving on the series’ formula is too delectable to ignore. Already they’ve chucked some of the least popular features, like chores and poorly designed restaurant builder mode, and refined both the visuals and gameplay. No doubt many more recipes will be added as the game goes through its early access phase, and I look forward to seeing how they will continue to tweak them based on real cooking techniques and challenges. While it’s still early enough for the game to sink like a falling cake, right now, it looks like good eats are on the way.
Cook Serve Delicious! 3?! debuts in Early Access on Jan. 29.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.