Chef Life is the newest in a long line of restaurant simulation games, but this one is actually endorsed by the Michelin food guide! Most restaurant simulation and tycoon games tend to focus on the business side of running a restaurant, while keeping the cooking to a minimal, Chef Life is very much focused on the opposite. Offering a unique look at what it takes to be a head chef in a restaurant, learning different recipes, improving on dishes and deciding your own menu while doing every little task required for completing a recipe all the way from ordering the ingredients to chopping all the veggies and putting the dish in the oven. Having played through a myriad of restaurant tycoons, playing a game that actually lets you go through the intricate details of the cooking process feels like a breath of fresh air.
A Typical Day in the Kitchen (Gameplay):
Chef Life’s core gameplay loop consists of getting to your restaurant bright and early every morning, picking out your menu and then ordering the supplies you’ll need for the day once the menu is finalized. Players also have the option to order in surplus and freeze their produce for later use if they wish to do so, however this usually ends up decreasing the quality of the produce and is seldom ever something that you truly need to do.
Once your produce is delivered the game gives you a bunch of free time to mess around in your kitchen. This time can be utilized to learn new recipes for future menus, prepare things in advance for the service, or go around buying upgrades for and decorating your restaurant. Later on, you also get introduced to your own sous chefs whom can be ordered to either clean up the kitchen before service, prepare appetizers, or help you in preparing dishes or ingredients for service.
As the time for service approaches your access to the pantry as well as having the ability to order around the sous chefs is taken away and time freezes until the player walks up to the door and flips the sign from “Closed” to “Open”, officially beginning the day’s service. Something to note here is also, if the player is in the middle of a recipe as the clock ticks over to service time, they can continue cooking while time is stopped as long they don’t need to access the pantry to pull out more ingredients.
Service time is when the gameplay truly heats up. Starting service restricts the player to just the kitchen, as customers come into the restaurant one by one and place their orders. At this point the player can either order their sous chefs or start cooking the order themselves, following each recipe to completion and filling each order.
Based on the quality of one’s ingredients and execution of the recipe, each dish ends up with a letter grade indicating how much the customer will end up enjoying it. Serving a dish with a high letter grade but letting it sit out so that it cools down before serving can also result in a poor review.
Once every customer is served, service is finished and the chef can once more walk around the entire restaurant and talk to anyone that may want to get their attention. Talking to people is how most of the Story advances in the game, which brings us to the next section.
Chef Life presents itself with an open ended narrative, however there are individual character and progression stories that can be followed to achieve certain milestones. Story beats happen when characters request to talk with you either before or after service and ask you to perform certain actions during service that progress their individual stories. Once you’ve listened to the initial request, each quest can also be viewed again at a bulletin board in your office.
The Game has quite a cast of characters to get to know further which really adds depth to the world of the game. Learning the backstories and motivations of each character allows you to actually be immersed in the experience of being a new restaurant owner in a community instead of just feeling like a random restaurant in generic unknown video game city. The cast of characters themselves are varied and intricate, including a food influencer who requests certain types of dishes and menu items to blog about, a Michelin star chef who acts as a mentor and really pushes you to up your game with more complex dishes, a government employee who informs you about happenings in the city and requests menu themes to cater to events and tourists that might want to dine at your restaurant, and an old man who’s mother used to own the restaurant before you, who wants you to keep her memory alive. There’s also your own sous chefs, each with their own motivations and goals of what they want to get out of working for you. Completing your sous chef’s storylines allows them to level up and be better at helping out with service.
The inclusion of character storylines weaved together with different gameplay requests really adds a lot to the immersive experience and enables players to explore more parts of the game that perhaps they would not have explored without the added importance.
The story does indeed culminate into something with a proper ending, one that I will not be spoiling here, but it is very much a fulfilling experience to run through. It is also to be noted that one can continue playing even after the “ending” and keep completing requests that may still pop up from time to time.
Oh The Bugs!
Technologically and graphically the game is pretty simply put together. With a low poly art style that fits the restaurant aesthetic well. That being said, there are quite a few visual and technical glitches that a player can expect to encounter while they go on running their restaurant. Some of these glitches are simple visual discrepancies such as characters T-posing while cooking animations still carry out in front of them or your wait staff clipping through tables in their quest to deliver food.
Then there are the more notorious game breaking bugs, which can be a lot more frustrating to experience. While playing through the game I joined the official discord to compare my experience with other players and was shocked to discover quite a few of the players being unable to progress because of various systems being completely broken or their entire save file being totally corrupted. The glitches include: time being completely stopped and not progressing, save data being corrupted or reset, quest lines not progressing even though you have completed the requirements (I ran into this myself a few times but was able to restart the game and have the questlines progress correctly). I was also informed that the vast majority of bugs were encountered by players on consoles, where patches take a lot longer to be delivered. So if you are looking to purchase the game for one of your consoles I would consult the discord first to see if there are any known bugs in the latest patch.
Replay-ability and Achievement Hunting Potential
Something I do like to do with a lot of games that I personally enjoy is going back to get achievements as well as explore paths that I may not taken previously. The game’s plotline does allow you to choose multiple directions your restaurant can take with different specialties, each choice having their own achievement options for which players may want to replay the game, but as the moment where the plotlines diverge is very clearly marked, one can also simply backup their save file at this point and restore to gain the other option. The achievements are also pretty straightforward and tied to different things players can do in the game such as having a menu featuring only Pasta dishes or plating the dishes so that each ingredient is stacked onto another to make a tower of ingredients laid out on a plate. I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of achievements and I believe apart from the story divergence most of the achievements are attainable in one playthrough. I will also note here that after sinking 40+ hours into the game I still don’t have all of the achievements so if you’re looking to 100% you may or may not be looking at at least 50 hours, excluding a game breaking glitch that forces you to restart your run. One thing I will mention is that the game does feature a preference menu that allows you to customize certain aspects to make dealing with service a lot less of a hassle and does not affect achievement progression.
Going into this game I expected an uncomplicated cooking simulator experience but I am glad to say that chef life does a lot more than just simulate cooking, although the cooking simulation part is very involved as well. Having sunk 40+ hours into the game I do think that I will eventually return to 100% the game, the gameplay loop is enjoyable enough for you to keep going without feeling stressed out by the complicated cooking, and the inclusion of your sous chefs getting better at helping out over time makes the game go by a lot easier once you hit that late game progression.
This is very much a delightful experience for those that prefer chore-heavy simulation games, provided one can look past some of the game breaking bugs.
I would like to award Chef Life a rating of 7/10
I believe it executes well on what it sets out to accomplish, however the game does feel very rough around the edges and with further polish, could be a much more exciting experience.