Do you enjoy cooking? It’s practically in my family blood. In Epic Chef – developed by Infinigon Games and published by Team17 – you’re playing a game and basically doing the same thing, except it’s a lot less realistic.
The game starts with Zest, the main protagonist of the game and the character that you use, who gets thrown overboard from a ship and into the land of Concordia. Apparently Zest was trying to do the pirates of the ship a favor, but they seemed to take it the wrong way and forcefully eject him out of their ship.
Zest has no money, but after talking to some of the people in the town and getting the necessary documents, he is eventually given some land, and a haunted house (the Villa grounds). Well, semi-haunted anyway. That’s why the mortgage is free. The people of Concordia, particularly Private Speck, the guardkeeper of the house, try to convice Zest not to reside there, but Zest has no other options.
Despite the house’s haunting origins, the soil surrounding it is fertile. Very fertile. A strange robot-like creature lands into the pool next to the house. Zest is able to speak with it, and the robot gives him tools of the trade for cultivating crops, such as a hoe for digging holes, an axe to cut down trees, and various seeds for growing plants. After planting the seeds, crops start producing much faster than a crop would normally take in real life; tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and everything else Zest plants grow within a matter of hours and are perfectly consumable. No water required. The only caveat is a plant can only be harvested X amount of times, X being different with every crop. A seed will need to be planted again if the crop stops producing.
Later on in the game, other fruits and vegetables will be able to be cultivated. Zest will also need to craft a windmill for creating seeds, a sawmill for crafting wood planks, a mixer for creating special sauces for dishes, fences to keep animals from feeding on his crops, as well as other utilities to create furniture or even spawn cows out of the blue. Generally, creating these tools only require a couple of wood planks, but hey, it’s a video game; it doesn’t have to be realistic.
The purpose of harvesting all these crops? It’s for cooking. Cooking is something that’s done a lot in this game. It’s for satisfying people’s tastes, and more often than not, the way the people of Concordia challenge each other is by means of cooking duels. In fact, in order for Zest to leave the Villa grounds, he has to face off against a knight by means of a cooking duel. The judge who will be tasting the contestants’ dishes? Why, none other than the knight’s donkey! Who else could it be?!
Creating a dish is fairly simple. Just add three ingredients into the pan (there’s a kitchen in the house), stirring to maximize flavor, while occasionally plopping the ingredients into the air to avoid burning them, then serve. As the ingredients cook, three different types of flavors are created: vigor, spirit, and sophistication. Each ingredient possesses different quantities of each attribute. For instance, the potato has a high amount of sophistication, while the carrot favors spirit.
When facing off against another chef, taking these flavors into account is important. The judge might favor vigor over sophistication. He might also dislike meat but highly favor rice in the dish. Therefore, both ingredients and flavors are important considerations when making said dish. Judges besides the donkey mentioned earlier include a homeless man, an ordinary chef, and a cat…it’s the game’s attempt at making humor, while also widly varying the judge’s tastes.
There’s another factor to consider during a cooking duel: sauces. Sauces can make a big impact in the judge’s tastes. A sauce might increase the spirit level of any given dish. Another might cause the judge to dislike vigor, making the contestant lose points for a dish that has any of it. This effect can last a couple of turns. Therefore, determining who’s dish gets tasted first becomes important. That’s where we get into aroma.
Aroma determines whose dish gets tried first. Aroma is collected by flipping the pan and having the ingredients catch the bubbles that appear while cooking. The dish that has the higher aroma score is the one that gets tasted first.
Overall, taking all of these things into consideration might seem overwhelming to someone who’s just getting into this game, but worry not; some of the cooking mechanics aren’t taken into account the first couple of duels you get into.
After winning the cooking duel with the knight, Zest will have other contestants that he will need to eventually face off. In the meantime, he can freely walk around Concordia, doing favors for the locals in order to gain in-game currency. Favors mostly mean fetching a large quantity of ingredients to a particular individual. A cat may want five rats, which are collected by the bay area (you can cook with rats by the way…). Someone else may want seeweed in stacks of 10, which are strewn by the beach. Other times, currency can be earned by winning tournaments against other chefs.
In the town of Concordia, fellow chefs will often argue and get into fights as to what ingredients are necessary for dishes. You’ll witness these fights yourself. Reminds me a lot of Hell’s Kitchen.
Keep in mind, time goes by in this game. And it goes really fast. Sit down a few times, and all of a sudden it’s 8 PM. By 6 PM most of the NPCs in Concordia will be gone and won’t be back until the next day at 9 AM. By going to rest at 8 or later, the game fast forwards to 6 AM the next day, and your progress is saved. Sometimes during the night you’ll hear a scream. Where is that scream coming from? You’ll have to find out yourself…
Later on, Zest will be able to open up his own restaurant. The restaurant comes empty, so he’ll need to craft a few tables and serve a few dishes to create his own menu. After doing some more errands for the people, customers will come in and leave reviews. Some may criticize a lack of space in the restaurant. Others might say favorable things about it, and you’ll earn some cash. I have to say, this was a very interesting aspect of the game, where you can customize the restaurant the way you want it to, but at the same time, you have to keep your customers appeased, both by what you serve and how the restaurant is decorated.
Whether the restaurant is the main part of the game, or whether Zest continues to duel other chefs at that point, I can’t say for certain, as I still haven’t finished playing the game in its entirety. The answer to both is probably yes.
Money will come in handy. You can spend it to increase the acreage of fertile soil, buy seeds in the event you don’t have any crops, or buy useful tools. Zest will actually need to purchase a cooking license after his first faceoff in order to keep cooking.
Zest can earn vigor, spirit, and sophistication in ways other than cooking. He can take a swim by the beach, have a seat, chat with the locals, study, among other things. The more of these levels he has, the more his experience will multiply when eating his own dishes. Earn enough experience, and Zest’s chef level goes up. The higher his level gets, the more complex ingredients he can make, as well as more powerful Synergy bonuses.
What’s Synergy? Synergy can be had depending on what ingredients you toss into the pan. Each ingredient has different properties besides vigor, spirit, and sophistication. After adding a carrot to a dish, for example, you can toss in a tomato for an extra five vigor points, besides the points the tomato already offers. After that you can add a potato for an extra five sophistication points. Ingredients that will give a synergy bonus will be highlighted in the ingredients menu.
Throughout his adventure, Zest can unlock extra costumes by winning tournaments or doing the townspeople a favor. Certain costumes will be needed in order to progress the main story. For example, Zest will need the chef outfit in order to compete with one of the chefs later on in the game.
Speaking of the story, there’s both main quests and side quests. As you might imagine, side quests aren’t as important as the main quests, but completing them definitely helps. Birch, the bird, can only be unlocked by completing a side quest, and let me tell you, Birch will definitely come in handy. Birch will be able to not only carry additional inventory from Zest, but Zest can ride it. Birch moves a lot faster than Zest does, and when there’s a lot of exploration, it can be annoying just walking by foot.
What do I think of the game so far? I like it, actually. I’ve put 10 hours so far and I haven’t finished the game yet. It’s a pretty impressive story length as far as I can tell, but I’m not sure if there’s even an “end” to it. Add to that the couple of times where the game actually gave me a chuckle with it’s sense of humor. One example is when a fellow chef comes to visit Zest at the Villa grounds. At the end of the discussion, the chef says, “Thank you for the tea.”
“Tea? I didn’t make you anything,” Zest replies.
“Then where did this cup come from?”
Zest pauses. “That was probably there before I even came here.”
The chef goes outside to puke.
The jokes mostly star on par; nothing that should offend anybody. But the other attempts at the game’s humor, while not offensive, aren’t as funny. Still, the judges who taste your dishes, as well as some of the conversations Zest gets into with other people, keep the game entertaining.
There’s a lot of hand holding in the beginning of the game as you go about farming and cooking dishes. But the tips the game gives you are something you’re going to want to remember later on, as you won’t get them again unless you pause the game and access the “How to Play” section. You’ll probably fail the first couple of times you get into a cooking duel, especially the more challenging ones later on, so it’s handy to refer to this manual to learn how to maximize the judge’s score. Again, sauces are also very important here.
As far as the balance goes between farming, cooking, exploring, and doing quests, I’d have to say the game strikes a pretty good balance between them all. That’s not easy to pull off. It’s not ARK-like level when it comes to crafting; a tree needs just a few hits with an axe and individual pieces of wood fall. Collecting three of them can be used to create a plank at the sawmill. So, it’s not dragging at all; the game moves at a good pace, albeit I wish the in-game time passed a little slower than it does now. The same goes for cooking; ingredients are cooked in a matter of seconds. Dishes will be made in less than a minute.
The funnest part of the game? Probably the story. There’s interesting conversations to be had, chefs who you’re going to want to totally kill over their threatening words, and cheering that you get from Zest’s fans. New outfits to wear, new crops to gather, new ingredients to craft all continue to make the game more interesting as you play.
As far as bugs go, there’s not a lot, except for the framerate issues which I’ll get into below. Sometimes after Zest talks to someone, his mouth will still move like he’s still talking to them. Other than that, the game plays pretty well.
Epic Chef uses Unity. I had no problems getting this game to run with Proton GE. However, the game occasionally drops the framerate to around 30 FPS or so, particularly in busy areas. I would think that, even with a low-poly game like this, it would run great on my setup, but I guess that’s not the case. Proton Experimental suffers the same framerate dips (in fact, vanilla Proton doesn’t render the splash logo on startup). I don’t know if that’s a problem with the game itself, or a problem with Proton. There’s full gamepad support though; you don’t need to use a keyboard and mouse if you don’t want to.
Epic Chef is definitely an interesting title to play. You’ll probably get in a few good laughs too. The game is available today on Steam, but it appears it’s also available on consoles as well.
Note: review key provided by Team17.