Overcooked seasons simplicity with mayhem for 2016's best local co-op

2016 GOTY Awards

Along with our group-selected 2016 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as a personal favorite of the year. We'll continue to post new Staff Picks throughout the rest of 2016.

Some of the most fun I've had playing a game this year came during a brief but overwhelming love affair with Overcooked. This frantic local co-op cooking game really captured the hearts of PC Gamer's US office—the minute the clock struck 5 pm we were crowding into a meeting room to chop tomatoes and wash dishes and plate our meals as the timer ticked down. Taking place in increasingly ludicrous restaurant scenarios, including a moving iceberg, a pirate ship and even the middle of a road, Overcooked requires careful concentration and coordination to fulfill specific orders in quick succession, but naturally everyone in the kitchen starts shouting at each other within just a few minutes. It might be even more fun to watch the madness unfold than to have a hand in it.

The most gratifying thing about Overcooked is rising to the challenge of a new level. The game seems easy, at first, with an introductory few levels that just introduce you to the basics of working together to prepare ingredients, cook them, and turn them in quickly. But as soon as obstacles start to show up, a poorly prepared team falls apart.

There's no single strategy that works in every kitchen, except perhaps having a team captain to Gordon Ramsay your chefs into ashamed organized obedience. Sometimes it's best for each player to focus on a specific task: you're on dishes, you're on chopping, you're on steaks. Don't. Burn. The. Steaks. You. Fuck. Got that process down? Good—now you have to toss aside that routine for something completely different.

The first crack at the harder kitchens almost always collapses in indecision, yelling, and despair, but those are the natural stages of Overcooked grief.

Then the next level constricts your movement, requiring everyone to cycle through each task in one smooth, continuing motion. Suddenly it's a game about timing, not mastery of a particular activity. And things just escalate from there, requiring some creative planning and pinpoint execution to clear. Another level sets you skidding across a broken ice flow, where it's treacherously easy to drop a completed dish into the ocean. One late-game stage takes you to space (cool) but requires pinpoint timing to move ingredients and completed dishes back and forth between a moving airlock compartment (so hard). 

The first crack at the harder kitchens almost always collapses in indecision, yelling, and despair, but those are the natural stages of Overcooked grief. You take a deep breath. You admit that that was a disaster. And you regroup. Responding to that failure with a battle plan and executing on it for that sweet sweet three star reward? That's a bisque for the soul.

Like other great co-op games, Overcooked is mostly a tool used to form memorable experiences with your friends. It does a lot with simple controls and variation on a single concept, but it helps that everything is so cartoony and adorable. The characters are easy to differentiate from the overhead perspective thanks to a few fun standouts like a fox and a raccoon who uses a wheelchair (Evan's go-to). Even the simple story is great, involving time travel to save the world from a giant meatball called the Ever Peckish.

Overcooked is so much more intricately designed than you'd expect for a small co-op game about cooking. I wouldn't recommend it by your lonesome, but with a trio of friends, it's a phenomenal choice for an hour of co-op madness. You'll come out stronger for the effort, new bonds forged in a kitchen split asunder by an earthquake. Or you'll hate each other, but such is the risk of a friendship tested by overcooked soup.