Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!

Vertigo Gaming, Inc.
PC, Mac
August 24th, 2017
Sidequest was provided with a copy of Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! in exchange for a fair and honest review.

In an essay on his site, John Romero (co-founder of iD Software and designer for iconic games like Wolfenstein and DOOM) posited that most people, when confronted with a mess, naturally want to clean it up. He called it ‘tidiness theory,’ and applied it to games—we want to dispose of enemies the same way we want to dispose of trash, or we want to clear all the blocks from the screen because it scratches the neatness itch. A commenter suggested it wasn’t so much the drive to clean as it was the drive to rid the world of chaos; and, after playing many, many hours of Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, I think I agree.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, Vertigo Gaming, Inc., 2017

I worked as a barista for four years. I could take or leave the vast majority of the job; I’m not a coffee lover, my customers were the particularly rude breed that inhabit any famous chain in a wealthy area, and my co-workers were, uh, not the best. But put me in front of an espresso machine and I’d turn beans and milk into frothy gold, and I’d do it with a smile, in part because it was part of my job description and in part because goddamn was it satisfying.

I haven’t worked retail in four years, and while meeting a deadline and working on stuff I care about are no less satisfying than busting out 30 lattes in five minutes, I still sometimes miss that rush of clearing chaos from the lobby.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is kind of like that. It’s a job simulator, in which you play as a harried waiter/cook/dishwasher/busser (there seem to be no other employees in this restaurant), cooking and serving dishes while also maintaining pest traps, taking out the garbage, and washing dishes. It’s absolute chaos, and there is nothing I love more than bringing order to it.

The game mechanics are simple; you have a menu, customers make orders, and you must prepare their orders according to their specifications. Some meal prep can be done, allowing you to keep certain dishes in a warmer and serve them as they’re ordered, though, true to food safety rules, they don’t last forever. Dishes are prepared by pressing certain keys (“a” adds black beans, “c” adds cheese, et cetera), some of which make sense and some of which do not, turning the whole experience into the world’s most frenetic typing game.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, Vertigo Gaming, Inc., 2017

As you progress through the levels, the dishes get more sophisticated and more complex. While you might start off slinging deep-fried goodies, eventually you’ll be searing filet mignon and fixing up custom okonomiyaki. But as the dishes get more complex, so too do the methods you use to cook them. You have to memorize the buttons for multiple ingredients spread throughout multiple tabs, all the while watching your orders pile up during rush hour. It’s incredibly stressful, and yet somehow immensely satisfying.

I don’t miss my days as a barista, but I do miss the sense of satisfaction in slipping from concentrated effort to a state of flow. The start of a shift was always a mess of frazzled employees, impatient customers, and drinks wrapped in circles on the bar. It would take a few minutes to make it through the anxiety of seeing all those cups in a line, but once I did, my mind quieted. I went from stressed to focused, sometimes even venturing into fun if I was doing well enough at getting drinks out the door, clearing up the chaos drink by drink.

So yes, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is stressful, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. In fact, I’ve been using the simple satisfaction of delivering orders and creating new strategies for quicker meal preparation to relax from normal, everyday stress. I can’t always clear the chaos from my life, but I can channel my frustration into something that makes me feel logical and organized, with rewards for doing it well. And unlike in many other game genres, the stress feels manageable. It’s not life or death. If a disgruntled customer gets pickles on their order but didn’t want them, they’ll be fine. If the time runs out, I might get a bad score, but I can try again. I can do better next time.

There’s more to the game than making and serving dishes, too. Players also have the ability to design their own restaurants and menus, placing color-coordinated furniture and picking which dishes best suit their aesthetics. While it can be fun to only prepare dishes that you like, I found that it lacked the challenge of the rest of the game, though that may also be because I tried to design a liquids-only restaurant consisting of various soups and drinks that needed little preparation. It’s a different sense of satisfaction, but not one that scratches the itch; in my twenty hours of playing the game, I’ve spent less than one playing anything other than the frenetic ‘tower’ mode, in which you grind levels to advance to increasingly fancy restaurants and raise your chef star level.

I’m not a particularly good video game chef; I average a silver medal, rarely get gold, and occasionally slip down to bronze. But it’s the work itself that satisfies me, not the success (though I admit to reloading a level if I mess up an order before rush hour). There is something appealing about fictional work—it’s why we have games like Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! and Viscera Cleanup Detail. Gamifying work might be as big a capitalist nightmare as we can possibly conceive of, and yet I find it soothing, tapping the keys, matching the orders up, and sending them on their way. I’m clearing chaos, bit by bit, and at the end of the day I wash my virtual hands and close the game, leaving the chaos behind until I’m ready to tackle it again.