Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 starts out with a bang. Literally. The restaurant you built up in Cook, Serve, Delicious 2 has been blown up with you, the chef, inside. Luckily, a pair of helpful, chatty cyborgs are there to dig you out of the rubble. The opening moments of the game set the tone for the whole experience: frantic, desperate action.
In the previous CSD game, the story was relegated to a background curiosity. Through occasional emails, mixed in with advertisements and new recipes, you could discover that the world surrounding your restaurant was in dire straights. Wars and chaos enveloped the United States, all while you continued to sling out orders, blissfully unaware. Washington state had been annexed by Canada. Oregon and many parts of the east coast had fallen into the ocean.
But in this third installment, all that has finally come to your door. With your food tower obliterated, you set off on a journey to take a food truck across the wasteland remnants of the US to the food truck national championship! People gotta eat, even during the end of the world; might as well be you serving them. You’ll start in Boise, Idaho and make many stops in each territory and state along the way.
Cooking in Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 is more or less a game of memorization and quick adaptation. Each recipe has a set of potential ingredients bound to a different key. Ingredients are broken down by if they appear on the left or right side of your interface and are color-coded by which page they appear on. You will need to press the right keys in the proper sequence according to a recipe at the bottom of the screen.
For example, making a pulled pork sandwich first involves prepping the pork with sauce and seasoning. You then follow it up for an individual customer by constructing the sandwich: placing a bottom bun, your prepared pork, more sauce, coleslaw (if the customer wants it), and finally a top bun. That’s one of the easier orders to complete. You’ll need to quickly cook, assemble, and serve dishes to customers before their patience runs out.
The food truck gimmick allows for many quality of life improvements that will be appreciated by anyone who has followed these games. First off, each day is no longer broken into breakfast, lunch, and dinner rushes. Instead, you now take a route with a set number of stops. The time between these stops is represented in distance in the top right of the screen, so you always know how long you have to prepare for your next wave of customers.
The road food warrior
The holding station system, a way to prepare commonly ordered dishes ahead of time, has also been improved. Now you can see both how many of each menu item you will need at your next stop as well as how many you are currently cooking. This change means that if you properly prepare, you can almost instantly complete an individual stop with the food you’ve prepared ahead of time. It’s a small tweak, but one that makes the game infinitely more manageable than its predecessors.
Don’t get too attached to your holding stations, though. New to Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 is roaving bands of rival food trucks. In this borderline Mad Max-style world, the best resource is customers – and other trucks are willing to fire upon you to get an edge in the franchise wars. Such attacks can shut down one or possibly more of your hot tables, putting you at a disadvantage for quick service at the next stop. These are isolated to just a handful of maps early on, but they will likely become more frequent the closer you get to the end of the road.
On top of prepping common orders in your holding stations, you also have to manage special orders placed while you are en route to your next stop. These recipes must all be cooked individually, and each customer may request a different addition or substitution, so it’s never as easy as following a set recipe. This adds to the frantic nature of the experience. Honestly, it’s about as close as a video game can come to replicating the feeling of being a short-order cook during a rush.
From novice to master
Recipes are ranked in difficulty from 0, which requires only a single set of steps, to 5, which will require you to follow the dish through multiple stages of cooking and garnishing, with variations depending on each order. Herein lies the beauty of how Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 handles difficulty. You create your menu for each day from the ground up, usually around a theme like American food.
This means that your menu is only as difficult as you choose for it to be. Trying to have a perfect day to unlock some of the harder stages? Stack your menu with low point recipes and watch the orders fly out the door. Want to push yourself to the limit and rake in as much money as possible in a single run? Load that bad boy up with complicated dishes. This gives you plenty of time to acclimate to each dish, growing more skilled at your own pace.
Certain levels will have a minimum point requirement for your menu, but that leads into the next quality of life addition: chill mode. Running a day this way turns the customer patience timer off, allowing you to focus on learning recipes and churning out great-looking food. The only downside here is that your rank caps out at silver for a perfect performance. It’s a small trade-off considering how much stress it takes off you.
A little help from your cybernetic friends
The last and possibly most useful addition is the help of your cyborg pals. Any time a dish is finished and ready, a single flick of the right stick or press of the left control key will automatically serve it up to the customer who ordered it. It’s a very small change, but it is crucial given how many orders you’ll be dealing with at once.
Co-op makes a return from Cook, Serve, Delicious 2, and it seems like it would be borderline required to manage some of the later game menus. However, the chill mode at least ensures that anyone will be able to play through the entire game, save for a few levels.
All the non-gameplay features are also top-notch. The food is so lovingly designed and in your face big that I worked up an appetite just by playing. The voice work is very solid, and the music, while a tad repetitive, helps elevate the whole experience. Throw in a progression system where you earn points to upgrade your truck, thereby helping to balance risk and reward, and there are plenty of reasons to stick with CSD3 for the long haul.
David Galindo, the creator, has set out a detailed roadmap for the early access period. New areas, achievements, and customization options will roll out in monthly updates. The final release is expected to launch this summer. Given the amount of time needed to perfect each level, this should provide you with plenty of content to chew on for the foreseeable future.
So, is it worth it? Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 may very well be the most stressful game I’ve played in years. It is by far the best entry in the series, with tons of improvements and streamlining. At $15, if you have even a passing interest, I can’t recommend giving it a try highly enough.