Slicing up vegetables, preparing meat, and cooking entrees mightn't sound like the most exciting video gaming activities, but when they're incorporated into a hectic, multiplayer arcade game, they can prove surprisingly engaging, if Overcooked is anything to go by.
Designed and created by two-man team Ghost Town Games, and published by Team 17, the upcoming PC, Xbox One and PS4 game is basically a couch co-op cooking game that has plenty of interesting twists and turns that help keep its action tasty and fresh. Overcooked's focus is on teamwork, and it tasks players to co-operatively play together in a restaurant kitchen to prep, cook, and deliver meals – and also clean up the dirty dishes.
I played a demo of the PC version with two other people, and we started off in a low-level kitchen where the objective was to prepare soup for the hungry patrons out in the restaurant. As orders came in, helpful iconography articulated which ingredients we needed to collect from the pantry, slice up, and then drop into one of the saucepans simmering on the stove. Once it was ready, the soup needed to be plated, and then carried to the serving hatch so that the waiters could fulfill the order.
Each of these steps is a single activity that takes a second or two to execute, and here's where the teamwork comes into play. Initially, we started out chaotically: Everyone was running around with ingredients doing their own thing. However, it soon became apparent that this was a poor way of carrying on – we had half-finished meals all over the kitchen and we weren't delivering soup on time, so we quickly started to coordinate our efforts. I settled into a role where I grabbed ingredients and prepared them as orders came in, while our second teammate collected the chopped-up vegetables and put them into the saucepans to make the soup. Our third player was responsible for plating the soup and delivering it, and cleaning up the dirty dishes that came back from the front of house. We communicated clearly, and were soon ahead of schedule, preparing meals as orders came in – enabling us to complete the level goal with ease.
The action might sound somewhat mundane, but there was something very enjoyable about running around the kitchen grabbing the correct ingredients and preparing them. The gameplay is simple, but engrossing – you're basically constantly following instructions that keep changing as the diners order different flavors of soup, which the team then has to quickly prepare. What makes it fun is the coordination between players. There needs to be constant communication to ensure that tasks aren't being doubled-up, and the process of preparing meals is running smoothly.
At this point, we were ready to step it up a notch, so we skipped forward a couple of levels to a kitchen that was split in two. This time we had to make burgers, but not all burgers were alike. Some customers wanted all the fixings, while others ordered burgers that were essentially missing key ingredients. Once again, we coordinated our efforts well, but the proceedings were made more challenging thanks to the fact that splitting the workspace in two was a conveyor belt upon which we had to place ingredients to get them from one side of the kitchen to the other. Somebody had to be there to pick them up, otherwise they'd fall into the waste disposal at the end of the conveyor belt, which added another dimension to the gameplay. Not only were we working against the clock to create the right burgers, we had to coordinate the timing of food preparation so that nothing went to waste. This created a lot of chatter between the players, and essentially made the action feel more hectic.
But it was nothing compared to the next level we tried. Here, the kitchen was on the back of a pair of trucks trundling down a road. The real fly in the soup was the fact that the trucks didn't always keep the same pace and were only occasionally side-by-side, so you couldn't always move from one half of the kitchen to the other. This completely changed up the gameplay, requiring us to prep ingredients and cook items while the trucks were apart from one another, and then quickly coordinate fetching food and delivering plates when the trucks were together, while making sure we didn't fall into the gap as the vehicles jostled around. It was pretty much chaos at this point, with all players involved shouting instructions about what they needed and when – and as a consequence it was hugely fun.
It's difficult to put my finger on exactly what makes Overcooked so thoroughly enjoyable, but it just nails co-operative multiplayer really well. On the face of it, its tasks seem easy, but the creative and devious way that levels are laid out make these simple objectives challenging in the most entertaining way. It's like trying to keep a whole bunch of plates spinning while someone's throwing banana skins at you – and the moment you stop working as a team, everything just falls apart. Add in the pressure of working against the clock, and little details like saucepans catching alight if they're left too long (and consequently having to be extinguished to stop the entire kitchen from going up in smoke), and you have a recipe for a frenetic multiplayer game that brings together players in a really positive way.
Quite how it plays as a single-player game remains to be seen, but as a multiplayer game, Overcooked most certainly delivers the goods. Keep an eye out for our review closer to its August 3rd release date.