Eat now, throw up later.
While the box front for this game does not say â€œTrevor Chanâ€™s Restaurant Empire,â€ it probably should, since Chanâ€™s extraordinarily detailed Capitalism games gained him quite a bit of prestige, and he continues that trend with Restaurant Empire. This ambitious title has a campaign mode with 18 scenarios as well as a sandbox mode, which is probably a good idea to fiddle with first. You play as burgeoning young chef Armand â€œWhereâ€™s the Beefâ€ LeBoeuf, and your uncle tells you that his prostate condition is forcing him into retirement. He agrees to let you have a go at running one of his Parisian bistros.
In the campaign gameâ€™s â€œAdventure Mode,â€ you see a gripping drama unfold. Not. It does have a story (of sorts) in which you and your nascent restaurant operation wheel and deal to drive down the price of rutabaga, and face challenges from mega-conglomerate OmniFood. Okay, the story is indeed rather lame, even though it does have the requisite threatening-bad-guys and boy-meets-girl elements. While its 3D graphics are â€œpleasant,â€ this is not an extremely pretty game; the sound effects are not bad, but theâ€¦honky-tonk music? Turn it off. Really. None of this matters, though, since the business sim is where the game really shines.
The basic elements of the game include attaining restaurants, decorating them, planning menus, pricing menu items, hiring (and firing) staff members, learning new recipes, modifying recipes, negotiating with greengrocers and other suppliers, and entering yourself, your chefs, and your paramour into cooking competitions (which contain optional mini-arcade games that seem really out of place). You are able to buy or win new recipes, and once you have quite a selection of them, you can branch out from French cuisine to Italian and American, and style them accordingly. Each level has a clearly defined goal or set of goals, generally involving a deadline. If your mission is a failure, you have the opportunity to restart the scenario with less stringent goals.
So many intricacies and tiny details, sometimes surprisingly, become very important. For instance, you need to take extreme care as to exactly where you place each table and chair in your dining areas. Too many of them means service will be too slow; too close together, too near the kitchen or the door (or the restroom?) means that patrons will find it too noisy; too sparse and spaced out that you wonâ€™t be able to seat people and theyâ€™ll walk out (and you cannot expand and add tables easily); all of these conditions lower your establishmentâ€™s reputation.
If youâ€™re new to detailed business sim games, Restaurant Empire might be frustrating, but itâ€™s very accessible, since you can lower the difficulty until you get the hang of it. And if youâ€™re an old time sim junkie, then this game is a treat you could probably try.
System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 128 MB RAM, WinXP