A cooking simulator that lets you make koeksisters, bunny chow and chakalaka. There you go. For South Africans, that’s all you need to know. Even with its bizarrely punctuated title, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is one of the best games of the year.

Seriously, this third entry in the “hardcore restaurant sim” series from Vertigo Gaming successfully rejigs the franchise formula to serve a much wider audience, while still accommodating the niche tastes of genre enthusiasts.

It’s jaw-dropping how customisable Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is, enabling everyone to shape their play experience, and satisfaction. This is thanks to an admirably vast set of general settings and accessibility features.

Driven by a stronger story than previous entries, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! jumps the CSD series forward to the year 2042, shifts all cooking action to a food truck, and hits the road. No more restaurant hygiene tasks. The celebrated eatery that your chef spent the past two games building up has been destroyed, and with the help of snarky and/or supportive rescue robots Whisk and Cleaver, you road-trip across a war-ravaged Remaining States of America, rebuilding your reputation one order at a time until you reach the Iron Chef Championships.

Honestly, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is so massive in scope, so completely customisable, it’s hard to talk about without becoming tangled in features.

Promising 100+ hours of gameplay, you have over 380 levels to complete, and over 200 globe-spanning food and drink options to add to your menu. Meanwhile, there’s complete rein to remap the controls whether you’re playing with keyboard and mouse, or controller. You can also rope in a friend for local co-op (which makes the game marginally easier, for the record), and divvy up the cooking tasks as you like.

Outside of the campaign, you’re encouraged to personalise your food truck with trinkets that are unlocked by progress or purchased with in-game currency. This customisation is purely cosmetic and optional. Also optional, but highly recommended as the game’s difficulty ramps up, are turn-on-and-off truck upgrades to improve your service performance and protect your vehicle.

At this point, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! probably sounds overwhelmingly fiddly and complicated. However, the primary game mechanic is simple enough.

Every day you decide on a menu that meets certain requirements, such as the number of items, or points (every meal has a point allocation that reflects its complexity). You then travel a stretch of road with several stops. A menu board helps you prepare the right number of ready-to serve orders for the next destination, while individual special orders flood in to be fulfilled. The faster and more accurately you deliver orders, the more currency you receive, the faster you level up, and the higher your medal rating for that stage – helping to unlock other gated routes. 

There’s one other key setting for players to toggle in Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!: Play mode. Standard mode is similar to previous, notoriously challenging CSD games, where customers’ patience dwindles if you’re too slow with orders. Your food truck is also prone to destructive Mad Max-esque attacks by other roving restauranteurs, which can put you on the back foot for the rest of the day. Alternatively, you can play the entire game in Chill mode, without time limits and attacks. The trade-off being that you can never achieve more than Silver medal for your efforts – although this doesn’t seem crippling in terms of game advancement.

It’s pretty much up to the player how compelling their Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! experience will be. Stick to the same recipes and never venture outside your comfort zone, and the game can easily become tedious. It takes around four hours of play just to reach the second territory of this cross-country cooking adventure. Mix things up, though, and you’ll likely find yourself slipping into a “one more route” mentality, and spend your nights plagued by fever dreams of serving each chimichanga with the correct individual choice of sour cream, gauc and other toppings.

Even in Chill mode, though, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is never relaxing. The goal is perfection under pressure, and, as in reality, if you botch an order, there’s no backspace or reload; just an angry customer. The latest Cook, Serve, Delicious! is frantic and stressful by default. Anxiety sufferers should probably avoid it.

This trailer (which features a bunny chow cameo) provides a very good indication of the game’s tempo. It also highlights how Jonathan Geer’s score drives the sense of urgency when his ear worm of a theme song isn’t burrowing into your brain.

Stress aside, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is incredibly addictive when you do get everything right, and the “delicious” bonuses start to stack up. There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment when orders are perfectly coordinated in quantity and cooking time, flying out the truck with no waiting or replenishment required.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! comes with many other pleasures too, that don’t depend on your talent for fast-paced food preparation. Its sense of humour reflects in Cleaver and Whisk’s banter, as well as write-ups on the different cuisines that mix historical fact and idiosyncratic fiction.

The only real gripe is that the game’s dystopian future setting isn’t really reflected in its cartoony art style. That said, the colourful food visuals regularly trigger cravings – and the tips screen jokingly warns you against playing on an empty stomach.

The Cook, Serve, Delicious series has been loved by the foodies of the Critical Hit team (not Darryn, of course) for years. Serving up the best parts of its predecessors, and adding its own inspired masterchef touches, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is no different.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! is available now for all platforms, including PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.

Last Updated: December 3, 2020

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!
Remarkably flexible, frantic, fun and funny, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! serves up a cooking sim that’s great value for money, and entirely what you make of it. All the ingredients are there, whether you want to stick to comfort food with very little mental nourishment, or dial up your ambitions with complex culinary masterpieces that must be served to the second. Micro-management skills aside, you're given the freedom to determine how engrossing your experience is.
8.5
/10
Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! was reviewed on PC
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