Picture the scene. You’ve taken your nearest and dearest out for a good quality meal somewhere in town. The ambience in the restaurant is wonderful; the staff nothing but attentive. You’ve browsed the menu and decided on the pork chops. Just as you’re settling into your second glass of wine, one of the kitchen staff comes over to the table and ruins the evening by dumping your pork chop straight onto the table, sans-plate!
Such are the imagined scenes in Overcooked 2, sequel to 2016’s wildly successful co-op cook-off. Sat playing beside (and with) my wife, the woman with whom I form a brilliant partnership in life, things had got tense. With just seconds remaining at the end of an early stage, we need to serve just one more dish sucessfully in order to progress. In my panic, I grabbed the pork chop out of the pan and ran to the serving conveyor belt, only to find to my horror that I was trying to serve my customers without a plate. Then time ran out.
Overcooked 2 is full of frantic, funny moments like this; just as with the original. Once we’d stopped laughing uncontrollably, my wife said the thing that tickled her the most was that she could almost see the panic in my little on-screen chef as he wobbled back over to try and get a plate before time got the better of us.
Of course, a reskinned version of the first game would make for some fairly unhappy gamers. Fortunately, Ghost Town Games have added in a few significant areas in this regards. Story Mode is the first item on the menu here. The Onion King is back and this time you’re contending with undead bread. That is the first of many terrible puns made throughout the in-engine told cut-scenes and they will uniformly make you groan like you’re at a Tim Vine gig.
The story mode at least gives you a reason to be doing what you’re doing. But in honesty, did you ever actually need a reason to cook badly with some friends? I won’t go so far as to say that the mode is tacked on. There’s clearly a lot of work gone into making your bus travel down the road to the next stage. The animations when you go from a land based stage to one on a raft to another one on a hot air balloon are neat too. But, really it’s all just an excuse to get to the next stage of culinary madness.
And it really is nuts. You’ll frequently feel like you’re in an episode of Gordon’s Kitchen Nightmares as you’re tasked with churning out dish after dish for hungry diners. Many of your favourite snacks return. But expect to see many more you haven’t cooked before. Many of the new recipes are multi-stage meals with individual ingredients that have to be chopped and then fried before they get anywhere near a plate. If you ever watched Mr Ramsey’s show and thought that really this cooking lark isn’t that hard, Overcooked 2 puts that idea well and truly to bed.
It isn’t just the dishes that have been added to either. Stages chop and change location from one minute to the next. In one memorable early level you begin in a hot air balloon (on fire!) that’s caught in some pretty hairy winds. Each side of the kitchen takes its turn to become much less accessable for one of the on-screen players before the whole thing takes an almight tumble to the ground about half way through and you have to continue the mayhem in a more traditional kitchen, only with a load of extra meals you weren’t cooking before!
And, to help out, you can now throw ingredients to each other. What initially seems like a great way of getting said pork chop to pan more quickly soon goes completely to pot as you and your partner throw an item at each other at the same time and end up losing them both! Look out for YouTube videos of perfectly synchronised cooking teams performing to Torvil and Dean levels of cohesion in the galley.
The final big addition, and this is the key one for me, is online multiplayer. Having run through a few stages co-operatively, I started a new game by myself. The game just loses something played alone, and I don’t just mean in physical player count. You can tap left bumper to change between your chefs and still perform the same functions as if there were two or three or four of you. The required scores even seem to have been adjusted to make it easier to complete with just one player. But, it just isn’t the same game.
So, being able to jump online, in the absence of having real friends, is a hugely welcome addition. Mics are pretty much essential as you might expect: communication is still key. But the ability to play through the game with an online partner or partners, hugely expands the longevity from the original’s short, sharp flash in the pan. It is of course hard to judge the online side of a game before launch day. However, if the servers stay upright, and there isn’t really a reason to suggest they won’t, then there’ll be a really special multiplayer experience waiting here for players.