Why did I get this game?
I stumbled across a preview of Restaurant Empire a few weeks ago on one of the big gaming sites - maybe GameSpot, who knows. Anyway, I thought the concept sounded pretty cool, but I soon forgot about the game and started playing other things. However, I mentioned to someone that when I get sick and tired of working in the tech industry, I'd love to open my own microbrewery/restaurant. Then it hit me that I should check out Restaurant Empire to somewhat fulfill my fantasy! I had $30 in gift certificates for Amazon thanks to Vividence.com surveys, so I ended up getting the game for free. You can actually buy it for just over $20, which is a steal for a game such as this.
What is it?
Restaurant Empire is a combination of The Sims, Sim City and Rollercoaster Tycoon (or your favorite * Tycoon game). Just based on these comparisons, it should be fairly obvious that this game will be addicting - and it really is. The general theme behind Restaurant Empire is successfully operating a single restaurant and then expanding your empire into other restaurants in the area.
Restaurant Empire features two modes of play: Adventure mode and Sandbox mode. The latter mode is pretty much exactly what it says - the world is your sandbox and you are free to build as many restaurants as your money will allow. At the beginning of the game, you can select the style, name and appearance of you first restaurant and then set your budget (I didn't run into an upper limit on this one, so the sky may be the limit). There are no goals to meet in Sandbox mode, so it's pretty straightforward.
The Adventure mode, on the other hand, is basically a series of scenarios (which start out as tutorials) in which you have certain goals to meet in a certain number of months. Some scenarios require you to have a certain revenue or profit level, while others require you to have a certain customer satisfaction rating or courses-served-on-time percentage. Some of these tasks can be quite difficult to accomplish without proper planning and execution. If you fail to meet these requirements at the end of the alotted time, you may restart the scenario with the same or lowered requirements. I have not needed to restart any scenarios yet (of the 7 or 8 that I have played), but I'm sure there are many more to go.
In the Adventure mode, you play as Armand LeBoeuf, a recent graduate of a French culinary school. Your uncle, Michel, used to own a restaurant until he recently closed it. He did not want the restaurant to be absorbed into the OmniFoods monopoly (the supplier of food to restaurants in the area that had jacked up prices and then opened restaurants of its own, forcing everyone else out of business due to extremely high supply costs). He also mentions that he has developed a nasty prostate condition and was unable to put up the fight any longer. I don't know why this detail was thrown in there...
You ask your uncle if you may open the restaurant on your own, as you are fresh out of culinary school. He agrees to give the restaurant to you if you manage to get up and running (i.e. meet a certain customer/revenue level). This is where the tutorials kick in. Your uncle then narrates the details involved in running the restaurant through the game interface, which is well done.
The first step is to furnish and decorate the restaurant, which includes placing kitchen equipment, tables and chairs, paintings, partitions, plants, rugs, etc. Some restaurants start out being fully or semi-furnished, while others require you to add bathrooms or even a kitchen. If your restaurant has a second floor, a dumbwaiter (tray elevator) can be placed in the kitchen to reduce service time. Exterior upgrades can be purchased as well if your restaurant meets the corresponding rating requirement (bushes and benches require 2 stars, while a big flashing sign requires at least 4 stars).
Next, your uncle shows you the steps necessary to establish the menu for your restaurant. A series of recipes in several categories are displayed (breakfast, appetizers, soup, main courses and dessert) from which you may add any or all to the menu. The only freedom you have with these recipes is the altering of the quality of the ingredients used to match your asking price (if the quality of the ingredients is too low for a recipe and the price is too high, customers will not order it), the use of specialty ingredients from suppliers you discover along the way, or the discovery of optional ingredients (which are actually hints purchased from customers). This was the area that was most disappointing to me because I wanted to have more control over the recipes, but I can understand why the recipes are set in stone as they are; the complexity would be far greater and would be a bit overwhelming in the scope of the game.
New recipes are discovered as you play through the scenarios - some come at a hefty price while others are rewards or come from exchanges with other chefs. Recipes have an equipment requirement, and if you do not have the necessary equipment (i.e. grill, food processor, etc.), you will need to make the purchase before adding the item to your menu. You also have control over the drinks offered in your restaurant and must pay a $20,000 licensing fee if you wish to serve alcohol.
After decoration and menu creation, the only thing needed before opening the restaurant is hiring the staff. The following positions can be filled: chefs, captains (take orders), servers (deliver food/drinks), kitchen porters (wash dishes and place orders on the dumbwaiter) and receptionists (seat customers). Each potential employee has a certain skill level and expected salary, so choose wisely. The skill level of employees can be increased by funding monthly training, which is rather expensive and will hurt your profit margins in some scenarios.
Certain chefs have skills at certain styles of cuisine and even certain recipes within those styles. For example, some chefs focus mainly on appetizers or desserts, while other have good skills in general French or Italian cuisine. A cool feature of the game is that you can assign chefs (if you have more than one in your kitchen) to prepare only certain recipes, which allows you to improve the quality of the food prepared if you choose wisely. A chef's skill at preparing a recipe will also increase as he prepares it more, so it's a good idea to assign specific recipes to your various chefs. Your customers will complain if their food is not prepared well, so keep your food ratings up!
After all of these initial tasks are taken out of the way, you can open the restaurant and customers will begin flowing in. You can view a customer's info to see how long they have been in the restaurant, what their favorite food is, what they have ordered and what their complaints are, etc. Customer complaints are something that can be fairly easy to remedy (i.e. many customers complain that the receptionist is rude, so you fire her! ), while others can take some time to figure out exactly what needs to be done to remedy the situation. One of the complaints that I have had the most problems with is slow service. One of the reasons for this is that I tried to cram as many tables into my restaurant as possible, which not only allows more customers in the restaurant at once, but it also creates a poor flow of traffic from the kitchen to the tables. I found that tweaking the balance between good service time and the extra profit earned from more customers is an essential element of the game.
As a rising chef, you may enter local or international cooking contests when you become aware of them. These contests are very similar to the famed "Iron Chef" competitions in a way. The contest is held in a cooking arena that looks more like it is more suited for a wrestling match than a cooking duel, but it works. Three teams (composed of one or more chefs depending on the contest rules) compete in one to three rounds of cooking action. The contest recipe or theme is announced beforehand so you have a chance to select the chef(s) from your roster that are most skilled in that area.
However, this is pretty much where your control of the cooking contest ends. If you want to just sit back and wait for minute-long round to end, you can, as your chef's skill alone will determine the outcome. But, if you want to help you chef increase his skills slightly, there are 3 mini-games that can be played at random that will boost your chef's concentration, precision and/or organization.
Winning a cooking contest not only gives you the right to display a medal on your menu to denote that the recipe won a contest, but you also gain a cash prize, a new recipe and a boost to your reputation. As your reputation grows higher, more people will be interested in dining in your restaurant and you will be able to raise your prices even more.
Lastly, you can view all sorts of reports and graphs about your restaurant or group of restaurants.
Graphics, Control and Sound
The graphics in Restaurant Empire are pretty decent. The highest resolution at which I was able to run the game was 1024x768x32 on my Geforce2, so I don't know if my card was the limiting factor or if it was the game's graphics engine. The interface is clean for the most part, although it seems a bit clunky at first. After playing for a few hours, though, the interface grew on me and I didn't feel like a guy with two left feet trying to tango anymore.
The view of your restaurant or the surrounding city may be shifted, rotated and zoomed all with the mouse or the keyboard. Shifting is done by moving the cursor to the corresponding side of the screen, as in other simulation games. Rotation is accomplished by holding the right mouse button and moving the camera about, which allows adequate freedom for what you need to see. Lastly, zooming is accomplished with the scroll wheel.
The sounds in Restaurant Empire are what you would expect in a restaurant: kitchen noises, silverware clanking against plates as people eat, bubbling pots and sizzling pans, almost-distinguishable conversation, etc. The music is simple synthesized tracks that add a bit of character to the game. I can tell they spared no expense on the music.
Conclusion and Rating
I initially thought that the Restaurant Empire was a bit too clunky for my liking. However, after mastering the camera controls and adjusting the sensitivity of the game cursor, I began to feel right at home.
The amount of detail included in this restaurant simulation is excellent, as you have control over pretty much every aspect of your restaurants and your empire.
I will definitely be putting more time into this game, as I only have three restaurants at the moment, which is not enough to call an empire yet.
Overall, I would give Restaurant Empire a rating of 80/100, losing some points because of the clunky interface but gaining most of those points back due to the great detail and control allowed.