Before writing about video games, I spent over three years working in the food service industry. And more often than not, I hated it. The stress of preparing other people’s grub on a deadline is the type of looming anxiety I still have nightmares about and, despite the lessons I learned, am glad to finally leave behind. OVERCOOKED 2, like its popular predecessor, is a gamified version of that panic that’s all about cooking, mixing, and serving an endless stream of dishes for increasingly impatient customers. Instead of triggering flashbacks of my days in an apron, Overcooked 2 served me an incredible cooperative experience full of triumph while also cultivating a safe amount of culinary anarchy.
Overcooked 2 Review: Chaos and Orders
Overcooked 2 is a deceptively simple concept: a team of one to four cooks must use the available ingredients to prepare the appropriate meals on the list the game generates. Recipes require different combinations of food that must be baked, grilled, mixed, or compiled in a certain order. Dishes that are served quickly get extra cash tips while failed or missed orders cause you to lose money. It’s an incredibly straightforward concept that anyone can understand and play, thanks to its simple controls and inviting, cartoonish art style.
The basic premise has to be easily comprehensive, given that you’ll need to play with others to fully extract what Overcooked 2 has to offer. While you can stumble around some earlier levels, the game quickly demands that you and your fellow cooks have some sort of order making, well, orders. Who’s going to chop the chicken? Someone has to cook the rice! And god dammit, why didn’t anyone wash the god damn plates?
As was requested by fans of the first game, Overcooked 2 has online play. I experienced no discernible lag during my sessions but, while appreciated, the true spirit of the game lies in local play.
It’s easy to turn into Gordon Ramsay as the kitchen morphs into a warzone when orders get neglected or screwed up. And that’ll usually happen on the first run of a level as your team gathers their bearings. But just as defeat can be overwhelming and morally crushing, success is inversely as exhilarating. Nailing a bunch of recipes in a row and getting three stars feels incredible and is the direct product of your team’s efficiency and communication. That feeling is accentuated by the charming soundtrack that jacks up the intensity as the timer winds down. Although the results screen oddly lacks an option to quickly restart, you’ll want to replay levels over and over to earn three stars as it immortalizes the work necessary to cut through the chaos and come out on top.
And that chaos changes with the amount of players. Two players only have to learn how to work with one other person, which gives both cooks more chores but is easier to manage. Doubling the amount of chefs changes the game entirely as the chaos multiplies proportionally with the potential to get more done. Micromanaging and communication become even more essential as you’re forced to divide up tasks even more finely. Succeeding as a team of four is more rewarding because it takes extra effort to make work and changes how you play the game without actually changing anything about the game.
Overcooked 2 Review: Kobe With the Kobi
Outside of a more dramatically polished presentation and visual style, Overcooked 2 didn’t need to change much from its predecessor. But its biggest gameplay innovation is the ability to throw food. While it seems minor and not at all hygienic, it adds another layer of skill and optional depth to the game. Good aim is rewarded as you can throw ingredients directly into pots or right into another teammate’s mitts. This saves time but is rarely vital to progression, making it a clever way to raise the skill ceiling without injecting unneeded complexity in a game that feeds off accessibility.
Sometimes you’ll be tossing a salad between cars in a busy intersection while other times you’ll throwing chopped beef across hot air balloons in the sky; it depends on the level and what it puts in front of you. Cooking is a simple concept but the level design does its best to always turn that premise on its head. All of the six worlds in the campaign, Arcade, and Versus modes gradually ramp up the difficulty through unique hazards, layouts, and recipes.
It’s almost never just cooking burritos, but rather cooking burritos in a cavern with constantly moving minecarts. Or serving different kinds of pizza to ungrateful wizards that Wingardium Leviosa the tables and chopping boards around. Gimmicks range from moving levels and geometry swaps to set pieces that rival the surprise and spectacle of the Uncharted series. Constantly shifting kitchens show off creative level design that pushes your team to adapt while also simultaneously keep the game as fresh as its produce at every turn.
Overcooked 2 Review: Interface Interruptions
Like finding a hair in an otherwise fantastic burger, Overcooked 2 is thoroughly exceptional but with a few niggling issues. Since it has to constantly and elegantly relay a ton of information to the team, the screen is usually littered with different icons. However, those icons can often overlap and hide key bits of information.
Symbols for empty bowl and completed recipes alike can obscure where the chopped shrimp is hiding or if the oven is about to combust, both of which can cause you to grab the wrong item or plate in the mess of prompts. Respawn timers are the most the egregious, as they are fat, non-opaque squares that gobble up everything in their wide, boxy radius. It’s usually not too hard to decipher what the stack of images mean, but when timers and ticking and fires are burning, every second spent sifting through the icons feels like an eternity that you can’t always afford.
Overcooked 2 did not make me miss the kitchens I slaved away in during and after my college years. Nothing can do that. Instead, it harnessed that frantic pace inherent to the food service industry and built a co-op game around it; one that surpasses its predecessor in every way. Whether it’s two players or four, Overcooked 2 is a rowdy cooperative blast that encourages teamwork and adaptation as its constantly changing level design and recipe book keep you and your team on their toes. It’s just up to you to find a group of people you’re willing to yell at and celebrate with.
Overcooked 2 was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.