Ghost Town Games' Overcooked and Overcooked 2 are two of the most popular titles in the somewhat niche cooking-themed genre. Having worked in a handful of kitchens myself, here are my thoughts on the games.
Working in restaurants
Working as a line cook in a fast-paced kitchen in Chicago was a bit of a shock at first. Everything and everyone had to move fast and effectively, because orders came in virtually nonstop.
Each line cook was assigned to a station: salad, broiler, meat, fryer, sauce, and an expeditor to keep everything moving like a well-oiled machine. One slow cog or error could mess up the entire process. It was hot, fast, and loud all the time. I have vivid memories of chugging quart containers of water, cooling off in the walk-in freezer, and the loud ringing in my ears when we finally turned off the roaring kitchen fans after a long day.
Every person in the kitchen came from drastically different backgrounds, but in such hot, loud, and fast conditions, we all communicated like a professional esports team: minimal words with maximum clarity. "Need lettuce up front", "90 is out, 91 working now, waiting on sauce".
There were rules and a language we used to keep things clear, for example:
- Calling out "hot" nonstop if you were moving with a knife or hot pan
- Shorthand terms like "on the fly", "SOS", "in the works", "86", "all day" and "across the board" (props if you know all of these)
Exhaustion and accomplishment
I went home after every shift exhausted, with a sore everything and a hoarse voice, but I slept soundly. I felt accomplished after every shift, knowing that myself and the rest of the line cooks worked our asses off together, and put out every order as quickly and effectively as we could. Having a round of beers after a hectic Friday night is one of my fondest memories of working in the restaurant industry.
While I'm thankful to have a more comfortable job nowadays, I don't ever regret my time working in kitchens. It taught me the importance of clear communication when working as a team, which is exponentially harder under pressure. One misheard word could lead to ruined orders, getting yelled at, or even getting hurt. I still have a burn scar from not yielding to a "hot behind" warning.
Playing Overcooked and Overcooked 2
I didn't think any of my skills from the kitchen would transfer to a cooking-based video game. Obviously, pressing a button to slice meat is easier than actually slicing meat.
With its clever food-based puns, diverse character selection, and goofy level design, I fully expected a fun party game where I'd be whipping up virtual food with my friends, and it wouldn't be anything like my time working in a kitchen.
However, as soon as I started playing, I was very suprised to feel the sudden hectic rush that I remembered from my kitchen days. Ingredients had to be prepped. Food had to go out in the right order, and couldn't take too long. Everyone had to multitask and communicate.
I was even more suprised to hear myself using some of my old forgotten kitchen slang to communicate with my teammates. It's been years since I worked in a kitchen, but I guess it's like riding a bike.
Top score on every level
I have 2 friends that I play Overcooked with regularly. So our 3-person team goal is always to get a perfect score (3 stars) on every level, including the rage-inducing bonus levels where you need to make dumplings for a sassy dog named Kevin.
We've found that it's relatively easy to get a 1 or 2 star rating on a level with minimal teamwork. But getting the 3 star rating takes some communication.
Without a 4th player, going for a perfect rating means there's no room for error.
For harder levels, we experiment with the workload and decide who will be doing what. If our initial plan fails, we take a minute to talk about where we can save time, who is overloaded, and how we can make orders faster. Sometimes we scrap an entire plan and try something new.
Different people have their strengths and weaknessess under pressure, and it's important to keep that in mind.
One person usually keeps track of the orders and helps the others stay organized and in-sync. Oftentimes, one person gets stuck on one side of the kitchen where the other players cannot reach, and therefore has the hardest job with zero downtime. This means the other two are doing all the communicating and organization, telling the solo-chef exactly what they need to do and when, because they don't have time to think.
It's very difficult at times, but not impossible, and over time we've begun to communicate more quickly and effectively. So far, we've 3-starred every level that has been released!
Mayhem always happens
The game loves to throw wrenches in your well-oiled communication machine. Your hot air balloon sushi and salad cafe comes crashing to the ground and bursts into flames.
Or you've finally found your groove and are cranking out kebabs and fruit smoothies on the beach level, and suddenly a tidal wave washes all of your orders away. And you have to adapt fast, and get back on track.
Just like in a real kitchen, sometimes things go horribly wrong, and you have to adapt quickly together.
If you don't laugh, you will cry
Sometimes the kitchen catches fire. Instead of putting it out, sometimes it's useful to just stand in it and watch everything burn. One person is screaming and spinning in circles with the fire extinguisher. Someone else is emoting expletives in the corner, and someone else is just throwing potatoes at the fire. It is chaos and it is beautiful.
Now imagine that you have 6 failed attempts at the same level. Your eyes are burning because you're so focused that you haven't blinked. Everyone is in serious mode and tension is at an all-time high. You're communicating like pro CS:GO players. This is the one; you can feel it. You prep the first order in record time: a perfectly seasoned chicken sandwich with fresh cut fries and piping hot onion rings...
...and then you watch as Adam throws the entire f*cking dish off the ledge, and then in shame, throws himself off too.
Your resolution breaks. You laugh, you cry, you insult Adam the same way he insulted you when you couldn't mentally comprehend the carrot cake level. You throw a potato at his head. And then you try again.
While you can play it single player, absolutely play Overcooked with friends for the mayhem and enjoyment of human communication (and error).
Together you'll struggle and fail, and fail, and fail. Then, when you finally succeed, you'll feel an amazing mix of relief and camaraderie.
I'm genuinely impressed that Overcooked gives me a taste of the "holy shit we did it" emotion that I used to get working in a busy kitchen. It's the same high that I get when beating a Destiny raid for the first time, or getting that last-second clutch bomb defuse. You don't need to be a pro gamer to feel that sense of glory.
That feeling is the reason I play games. The Overcooked series manages to deliver it in an unassumingly adorable cooking game.
Overcooked will make (or break) friendships, and teach you a lot about yourself and the importance of good communication. It's available on PC, PS4, Xbox, and Switch, and I absolutely recommend it.