Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! Review

Screenshot of Yaki Tomorokoshi being prepared in Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
Cook, Serve, Delicious! is back! But in food truck form...

Quick Info
Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
Developer: Vertigo Gaming
Publisher: Vertigo Gaming
Release Date: 14 Oct 2020
Time played: 54 hours

Battered Eel 2042

A very generous friend of mine gifted the copy of the game I'm reviewing today (thank you Mina!) since she figured I was really into the Cook, Serve, Delicious! games. Of course, she is absolutely right. I'm no stranger to the series, having played and reviewed Cook, Serve, Delicious! and Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!. I quite enjoyed them, which is why they both scored a 9 out of 10 here at Choicest Games, but can Vertigo Gaming manage to score a hat-trick with Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! (which I'll from now on abbreviate to CSD3 so I can spare some punctuation)?

In terms of the plot, the year is 2042 (coincidentally, the same year that the most recent Battlefield title is set in) and America appears to have been torn apart by a second civil war, not to mention climate change has resulted in the flooding of several cities. Your character, chef and owner of the prestigious Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! restaurant at Teragon Tower, is again struck with bad luck as the building takes a hit from a rocket resulting in the destruction of your restaurant. Having lost two restaurants in his lifetime, you'd think the chef would throw in the towel but a chance to start a new life presents itself in the form of two recovery robots who happen to be your biggest fans, and their van, which they've converted into a food truck. They propose taking a long road trip to the Iron Cook Speedway competition just outside the new capital of Nashville, Tennessee as the prize money for winning is a substantial sum, enough to probably start up a new restaurant again.

The game is presented in a similar cartoony art style seen in the previous games and the soundtrack is composed by Jonathan Geer, a frequent collaborator with David Galindo (the creator of the series). At first, I felt disappointed that Geer had departed from the jazz and funk that dominated the soundtracks of the previous games but I eventually came to not only appreciate the new pop tracks punctuated with punchy vocals and scatting, but enjoy them in their own right. One of the menu themes called "It's Dangerous to Go Alone" is particularly catchy.

Screenshot of a map of the United States in Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
You go on a road trip of what remains of the USA in 2042

The Dark Souls of Cooking Games

At a high level, CSD3 functions similar to previous games in the franchise in that you receive orders from customers throughout the day and you're expected to quickly cook and serve these meals using your 1337 typing skills to maximise the number of people you serve. The more happy customers, the more money you'll make. Also, if you happen to make absolutely no mistakes, you'll be awarded a gold medal at the end of the day. If you do make some mistakes, you'll instead be awarded a silver or bronze medal or none at all if you anger too many customers.

Unlike the previous games, the CSD3 experience doesn't have that casual, sandbox feel and this will become more apparent the further you get into the game. The campaign is linear, as you'd expect, since you're making a road trip across America and visiting different cities along the way. The medal system which didn't have much of an impact in the earlier titles (besides unlocking particular dishes to cook) is critical in CSD3 since in order to progress to the next city (i.e. the next stage of the game) you need to earn a number of bronze or silver medals to exit your current city: even certain levels within your current city are locked until you earn the right number of medals.

Days are no longer cruisey as they once were either. In the first two Cook, Serve, Delicious! games, most of the day went at a manageable pace until you encountered the “rush hours" at lunch and dinner time. In CSD3, “rush hours" are the norm as the food truck you work in will visit multiple stops during a single day and each of these stops will have customers already waiting for their food to be served. In fact, in between stops you'll receive orders in advance which means your quiet respites between stops is still pretty hectic especially when you're being attacked by other food trucks (yes, in this dystopian American future, gun violence has taken to the streets. Wait, that's not the future... never mind). Attacks can range from damaging food stations and other equipment, to hacking your information displays, to destroying all your prepared orders in the holding stations (very painful!). And if that wasn't bad enough, on certain days, customers can be even more impatient than normal.

As you progress through the game, more of these negative modifiers will start to stack up and the only way to overcome them is a combination of “git gud" at what has no doubt become the Dark Souls of cooking games and upgrading your food truck with technology that buys you time or protects you against food truck attacks (each time you level up in this game you receive spare parts that can be used for upgrading your vehicle). But there are also insidious ways that the game ramps up the difficulty under the guise of features that seem helpful on the surface.

Screenshot of map showing Nashville levels in Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
As you progress through the game, customers will become more impatient and food truck attacks more frequent

He Cooks in Mysterious Ways

There are a few features in this game that seem, on the surface, a great boon but if misused, can actually make your life harder. For example, you have robot helpers named Whisk and Cleaver that are able to instantly deliver any prepared meals . The goal of the game is to complete as many orders as possible without any of the customers becoming so impatient they give up and leave. In previous games, you would need to manually go through each order one by one and deliver them, so surely, being able to deliver all prepared orders in one go is a huge time saver, right? Well, it is but there's a problem. In the previous Cook, Serve, Delicious! games, unless it was rush hour, it would usually take a while before someone else came along to give their next order. This means completing orders actually buys you a bit of time. In CSD3, completing an order will be immediately followed by a new order - there is no reprieve in the onslaught of orders. So, while in the older games you would be able to cope with one new order waiting to be completed, in CSD3 you would have multiple new ones all coming in at the same time, and depending on how you've setup your prep stations, this could be as many as 14.

Timing becomes even more crucial in CSD3 and while it seems counterintuitive to let your customers get angry and wait to the last minute before delivering their prepared order, it soon becomes a necessity in order to buy you more time to complete more complex meals later in the game. You end up learning when is an appropriate time to auto-deliver and when it's not.

Also, you know how I mentioned the 14 prep stations? That is yet another dilemma you'll face later in the game. As you progress through the game you're able to add more prep stations up to a maximum of 14. Normally, you wouldn't be adding more prep stations since that just gives you more multi-tasking to do, right? Well, in CSD3, different meals have been ranked in terms of their difficulty. So ridiculously easy dishes to make like Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, are tier 0 while difficult desserts like Creme Brulee, are tier 5. Later on you'll encounter more levels with minimum points requirements since each dish's tier corresponds to how many points they are worth (i.e. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches don't count as any points while Creme Brulee counts as 5 points). So, what's this to do with prep stations? Well, each extra prep station that you add will also contribute to the points total, meaning it's possible to add more prep stations which might allow you to get away with easier dishes. I found even some of the mid-tier dishes quite easy to stuff up which is why when I originally found out about the extra prep stations, I always maxed it out since it meant I could get away with preparing lots of really easy dishes. However, I found that this strategy didn't work the further I progressed in the game and I then had to start figuring out what was the sweet spot with each level, whether I went all extra prep stations, no extra prep stations, or somewhere in between.

Screenshot of Today's Menu screen in Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
Later in the game, dishes will become more difficult to prepare

A Slightly Different Recipe

When I first played CSD3 I was disappointed that customisation options weren't as good as the previous games, but to be fair, how much can you do to the inside of a food truck? I also was close to quitting the game after I completed the first couple of cities. That's because the way I played the previous games didn't seem to cut the mustard anymore, I was getting to the point where I was struggling to even get a medal, let alone a gold one which meant I wasn't able to progress through the campaign (at least on Normal difficulty - there is a Chill mode which apparently makes things easier but I never tried it). It wasn't until I finally realised that CSD3 wasn't just a game about skill but strategy as well: determining how many prep stations you use, when to auto-deliver food, even which dishes to put on the menu, actually has a big impact on whether you succeed or not, something I never needed to worry about in previous iterations.

While I can totally understand fans of the previous two games throwing in the towel like I almost did, I'd urge them to look at what CSD3 is: a re-invention of Cook, Serve, Delicious!, one that requires an element of planning and strategy, and one that leans heavily on its reputation as the Dark Souls of cooking games. Once I got back into the game with renewed vigour, I found it to be a lot of fun - it's just a different type of fun, the sort you get when you overcome difficult challenges. CSD3 felt more like a game in the traditional sense than a chilled restaurant simulation interspersed with arcade cooking sequences.


Fans of the first two Cook, Serve, Delicious! games will have to go into this one with an open mind as it's a slight detour from the old recipe. It seems that Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! wants to live up to the franchise's reputation as the Dark Souls of cooking games which means honing your skills and strategy is paramount if you want to make it to the final destination: Nashville, Tennessee, the capital of a near-future, dystopian America. It's the most challenging Cook, Serve, Delicious! I've played to date, but once I got used to the changes, I really enjoyed it.

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