There’s a range of simulators revolving around making meals and while Yum Yum Cookstar keeps things simple, Cooking Simulator was a little too clumsy to enjoy, Chef Life looks far more advanced so let’s jump into the kitchen and have a look at what’s cooking.
When you start Chef Life, you’ll create your chef and step inside your new restaurant a few days before the grand opening, you’ll meet your helpful assistant, who runs you through the basics of making your first meal, Steak and Chips.
When creating a meal there’s basic stages which are cleanly outlined by allowing a recipe to be pinned, this give you a quick rundown of instructions at the top of the screen, taking you through each stage of preparing and cooking the ingredients.
For our trusty Steak and chips with shallots, you’ll first need to grab a potato and the baby onions, and then carry the beef over to the cutting board.
Then it’s onto the very lite RTE mini games, as you push the stick in the desired direction to cut a fillet of steak, and then after moving to the next chopping board and selecting the potato and shallot, cutting those in a similar manner.
Now on to cooking, you’ll select the frying pan, pop it on the hob and after searing the meat, you add the shallots and turn it half way, before dropping the chips in the deep fry.
This is where you move on to the preparation stage, which initially automatically prepares the dish ready to serve, but at any time you can hit “Y” to rebuild the dish, which gives you the opportunity to select exactly what plate you wish to serve on, whether to include a sauce pot, and then add the ingredients.
This is the first time you really get a feel for the depth of Chef Life, as rather than a handful of options, you’re really free to prepare the dishes however you please, there’s usually 4-5 different presentation options for each ingredient, as well as decorative touches to really showcase your creativity.
This continues with other dishes, and you’ll soon be making mozzarella salad and fillet of sole with green beans as your restaurant starts to take shape ahead of opening.
You’ll also meet Max who delivers food, and get a quick rundown of how to order and stock your store room and fridges, as well as the option to enter design mode, to move objects around in your kitchen, so you don’t have to walk half way around the room to reach the refrigerator, which is essential for storing pre-prepared foods.
The depth keeps on impressing, as opening day arrives, you’ve probably spent a good hour getting to grips with proceedings and realising that with each meal you cook, you’ll be paid for the dish, as well as a tip if it’s cooked well.
Ordering from national, or better still local suppliers increases your reputation and seasoning with salt, pepper, herbs & spices can further. With the restaurant only just opened it’ll be a while before you can order from more prestigious suppliers, or buy fancy plates, extra kitchen equipment and new tables and chairs for your restaurant, but sure enough all journeys start on a simple path, and once you’ve written todays meals on the blackboard, and hired a serving assistant you’re ready to roll and serve your first batch of customers.
Before this stage I was a little concerned about deadlines, as cooked meals go cold, but before opening, you get a selection of helpful preferences which can ease the pressure by allowing you to reduce customer numbers, stop diners getting impatient, and preventing food from burning, as well as additional recipe tips while cooking.
These touches really help to make the game as straightforward or as challenging as you desire, so while you’re always have to make some meals, you’ll have far more freedom to manage the restaurant in between meals.
Progressing further you’ll start to unlock more and more recipes, and later extra staff who rather than committing to just clean the kitchen, can be given various tasks to help prepare and cook meals.
There really is a wealth of options to make this restaurant your own, and while I head straight to the store to buy fancy rectangular plates and a new mandarin style top, others might prefer to get an extra heating plate to keep more food warm ready to serve.
I can’t deny that first hour is a little daunting as you get to grips with everything, but once you start to find the flow and prepare meals earlier in the day, I was able to throw out multiple mozzarella salads in no time, allowing me to concentrate on some of the meat-based meals.
Graphically everything is presented well, the game is seen through a third person perspective and while you’ll sometimes whip the camera around with the right analogue stick, the increasingly familiar kitchen was easy to navigate.
Once food is brought into the kitchen is all shown in one area, which makes it easy to get hold of, and when you do every ingredient is accurately represented either by the small icon in your inventory at the bottom of the screen, or as an actual product inside the kitchen, I didn’t encounter any graphical issues with performance or aesthetics, and while the sound is a little bland at times, there’s plenty of relative sounds to make it sound and feel like a busy kitchen.
There’s only so much detail you can have with chopping ingredients or item sizzling in the pan or frier, but everything sounds exactly as you might expect and there’s helpful visual and audio queue if you’ve moved away from one area and your food is starting to spoil.
As always, I like to outline negatives, and you’ll be pleased to know there’s really not that many. Control is infinitely more playable than Cooking Simulator, Recipe creation and presentation is a thousand times better than Yum Yum Cookstar, and while the first may be prefered solely for food preparation or the later for simple fun, if you’re looking for a deeper, engrossing and ultimately more rewarding experience Chef Life is the kitchen to cook in.
One small issue at launch is taking photos of your food, you’re prompted to do so, and when doing it in game, the game crashed.
You can still go into the photo section, change the zoom and background, but sticking with the Xbox based screenshots it avoids any issues. I’m sure the in-game photographs will be patched in no time at all, but if you’re playing at launch it might be worth avoiding snapping that shot.
The final issue is the name of some of the dishes, when you’re prompted to make mozzarella salad, it’s listed as “Caprese” and fillet of sole is known as “Sole Muniere” now my Italian and French might be a little rusty, but I’d prefer if the game just stuck to one name rather than asking you for the English name but listing the recipes in their native name.
It’s easy enough to get used to, especially when you’re selecting which of the 75+ recipes you want to cook and serve, but it’s just that first learning curve is a little sharper than it needed to be.
That’s really all I can find that’s negative, and while a cooking simulator is obviously quite a niche area, for anyone looking for an in-depth management game, mixed with a very playable cooking section, you’ll find Chef Life packed with gameplay which will keep you occupied for a long, long time.
Another point to mention is the value, at £33.49 it’s definitely a great value purchase, like many of the higher quality simulation games, you’re looking at RPG levels of gameplay, 20, 30, 50 hours or more. Your restaurant will be serving soup followed by steak and chips, but keep returning, keep improving and keep upgrading your business and you’ll soon be serving dishes to make Gorden Ramsey keep his mouth shut.
Chef Life isn’t going to appeal to everybody, but if you like the idea of running your own restaurant with a high level of detail and customisation, you’re going to find a Restaurant Simulator the perfect addition to your collection.
Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator
Chef Life isn’t going to appeal to everybody, but if you like the idea of running your own restaurant with a high level of detail and customisation, you’re going to find a Restaurant Simulator the perfect addition to your gaming collection.