In games, I've fought wars, escaped certain death, and saved universes—but I don't think I've ever been as stressed out as I am assembling a burger in Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!. This cooking sim sequel puts the focus squarely on high-speed food preparation under pressure. A lot of pressure.
In a near-future America torn apart by war, your goal is to… run a successful food truck. As you travel across the country, you have to set your menu and then (rapidly) get everything ready for your customers, tapping letters on your keyboard to correctly cook each dish. Different levels have different restrictions, forcing you to change up your offering by only allowing certain types of food, or requiring a minimum number of points (each dish being scored according to how complex it is to make).
Compared to the previous games, the action is streamlined. You no longer have to do chores like washing the dishes, for example, and instead of serving orders one by one, you can hit a key to send out all ready dishes automatically. It's a shearing away of distractions that allows you to concentrate on cooking and cooking alone.
At first, the game feels easier than its predecessors. The action's even broken up into periods of travel and stopping points where customers arrive, giving you hassle-free time to prepare meals in advance and get ahead of the rush. But it quickly becomes clear that these little mercies are all the excuse the developer needs to crank up the heat.
Orders come thick and fast, and the increasingly complex foods you're forced to offer require ever more concentration to get right in a hurry. While you can pre-prepare foods, there are only limited holding stations to keep them in—as in a great strategy game, you're constantly making tough choices, even if here they're between chicken nuggets and battered cod. Keeping up with which stations are running out and what there's still demand for, and setting up new mid-rush batch cooks, on top of keeping up with the grumpy impatience of waiting customers, is as demanding as making Christmas dinner for Gordon Ramsay.
Whether it's actually fun or not will depend on your disposition. The resulting loop generates a kind of genuine stress that I could imagine leaving some tearing their hair out. And while the 'chill mode' difficulty does offer a more relaxed alternative, its restriction that you can only achieve silver medals at best while using it will for some feel like training wheels rather than the full experience.
But if you're anything like me, you'll thrive on the adrenaline rush of the game's sweat-inducing default difficulty. Great cooking sims aren't about cooking, they're about performing under pressure, and by that metric the Cook, Serve, Delicious series is a cut above. Even in this Early Access release, the ebb and flow is perfectly paced, never fully letting up but allowing enough quiet moments to make the sprints all the more exhilarating when they come. At the end of a busy shift, as you rise out of your culinary fugue state, there's a palpable sense of satisfaction.
There's loads still to be added over the course of Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!'s journey through Early Access—the story is currently quite thin, progression a little basic, and while there's a good chunk of levels already, there's room for a lot more to come. But even as it is now it doesn't feel half-baked (sorry). The core action is intense and absorbing, there's a huge library of foodstuffs from all over the world to make, and the only thing higher than the skill ceiling is my blood pressure. Bon appetit.