If Gordon Ramsay manages to bring himself to the verge of having a coronary if a piece of steak gets ever so slightly singed, God only knows how he'd manage on a game like Overcooked. Whether you're cooking on ice, trying to make burgers in the middle of an earthquake, or frying up a treat in a haunted house where the lights keep dying, Overcooked is a recipe (sorry) for multiplayer disaster.
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The concept here is straightforward enough - with you and up to three friends cramming on a sofa together, it's up to you to man a variety of kitchens, chopping up lettuce, frying burgers, and generally putting orders together as they come in - even to the point of having to wash the dishes. With crates full of ingredients, chopping boards you can chop them up on, pots to cook in and grills to fry on, each kitchen has everything you need to put the orders together. The only problem is, it's never quite that simple. While every kitchen has all the basics, they also all have something pretty substantially wrong them, designed to get in your way - and you'll have to figure out how to work around it as a team.
In the aforementioned kitchen with the earthquake, that means the kitchen will occasionally split into two levels, separating those on the bottom from the all important grills and serving hatch - best hope you didn't leave a burger cooking when the ground splits, or you'll have a fire to put out when you get back up there. On ships, the tide plays havoc with your workstations, sliding tables around, and moving people away from whatever-it-was they were watching. One level even takes place aboard two lorries, which only drive next to each other for a few seconds (so you can transfer between the two) before moving apart, separating you from half of your most important kitchen bits. The level set in the haunted house, meanwhile, often has you literally working in the dark.
As you can imagine, this is a game with the potential for things to get very crazy, very quickly - and it doesn't take long before even the simplest of kitchens degenerates into a complete mess (in the best of ways). Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but too many chefs just makes Overcooked even better, as you bounce into each other while trying to get to the few food stations you have. Even better, you don't have to worry about food hygiene either. Can't reach the burger to put your freshly prepared lettuce on it? No worries - just leave it on the floor until someone picks it up. It'll just add flavour!
Designed to be played with a group of friends, Overcooked can seem a little bit slow when played in single-player (even if you are working towards suitably lower point goals) - but with a full complement of players, it turns into a completely different game. With such an immense requirement for teamwork and communication, the levels have been designed to split you off into teams, or even individually as much as possible, so everyone has something they can do, whether it's ferrying dishes to be washed up, chopping the ingredients, or simply making sure nothing catches fire. Many levels also are deliberately designed to be as awkward as possible, with narrow gaps and bottlenecks you'll have to squeeze through, letting you make good use of the handy "curse at your friends" button (it really exists!)
We'll be honest - we had more laughs with Overcooked than we have from almost any local multiplayer game in a long, long time. But that doesn't mean it isn't without its flaws. In fact, perhaps Overcooked's biggest issue is that it gets too hard, too quickly, which in turn robs it of its greatest asset - the fun.
Overcooked is at its finest where you and your friends are just about managing to keep up with the crazy demands the game throws your way, tossing burgers, accidentally dropping fresh soup in the bin rather than the serving hatch, and frantically spinning around with a fire extinguisher when your entire kitchen catches fire. And that means it treads a fine line. If the game's too easy, it won't have that manic aspect that creates the hilarious moments. But make it too tricky, and you'll have a game where you end up having to concentrate so much on what you're doing, you end up not being able to have any fun.
And it's the latter issue that Overcooked hits, getting way too hard, way too quickly. The first dozen or so levels get the difficulty just about right - all the game really needed to do was tweak the situation in each kitchen offers, and keep the difficulty roughly the same, and this would have been a must buy. Instead, it ramps the difficulty level up fast, throwing more complex food, and more orders for said food in at the same time as making the kitchens you're working in totally fiendish (as each order has a time limit you need to serve it in, you're constantly working against the clock, too). As such, you end up going from wanting to replay the levels to see if you can get that extra star (and having even more fun doing so), to only ending up scraping a single star - if you're lucky. And when it's that punishing to get one star, why would you want to try and get all three?
In all, then, Overcooked is a game that's best enjoyed with friends - and best enjoyed if you're playing light heartedly, rather than trying to three star every level. If you end each level in tears of laughter, you're doing it right - and we've done that many a time. If you plan on playing on your own, it's probably best on giving this a miss until you can find a group of players willing to squeeze their chef's hats on and get stuck in - but with the right bunch in tow, you'll be on to a winner (at least, until it gets too tricky).
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4