The sim genre of games on the PC is probably the most varied genre in existence. Developers have had gamers manage hotels, theme parks, zoos, businesses, shopping malls and now, thanks to the guys at Enlight Software, Restaurants. Can the same people that brought you Hotel Giant and Capitalism succeed is the unique implementation of virtual Restaurant management?
Upon installing Restaurant Empire, I began pondering how this game would play out - a simple straight forward traditional management style interface and story line just wouldn't seem to cut it for this type of game, and alas one was not implemented. Rather than just slapping a tutorial infront of the player to get the restaurant building straight underway Enlight have created a story inside Restaurant Empire, where a young entrepreneur (the player) is given the chance to run a new Restaurant from his father. On the way, the player is given goals to achieve in certain time frames and the story line progresses, each chapter revealing more of the story behind the game. This style of gameplay gives great balance to the pace of the game, which is a nice change from many other management style games. It also offers an integrated tutorial in the main game mode, so everything can be learnt on the fly.
However if following a story line isn't your idea of great gameplay then don't fret because included is a 'sand box' mode of gameplay. In this mode the player is given a template for a restaurant and a considerably large amount of cash to develop it. This mode is a great way to get a quick fix and to showcase the full capabilities of the game in the first go.
In game, Restaurant Empire plays similar to past Enlight Software titles. The Interfaces which control the managerial aspects are neatly presented with clear options to chose from. Due to the nature of RE it is next to impossible to feel that 'over your head' problem found in some games, where to much information is presented at once. The game doesn't exactly fly through time so you are given ample time to understand every option that may arise.
The idea of RE is to, ultimately, make a profit. However this is easier said than done, to maintain a healthy satisfaction level amongst your customers you will need to make sure all your decorations, comfort, prices and staff are in check. Probably the most important of these is the staff. On many occasions I found saving money on a lower paid staff resulted in much less approval from the customers, as they often complained about the food quality and the impolite nature of the staff. The old saying of 'you get what you pay for' is certainly true in RE, as it is hard to make money when customers aren't interested in coming back.
For a restaurant to be successful, customers will need to have a good range of dishes to choose from, and RE simulates this aspect well. The player is given the choice to customize the menu, ranging from the font of the text to the style of the graphics, while the player also has control on what dishes are offered and which aren't. It is generally a good idea to add all available dishes to the menu, the experience of making new dishes helps build your chef while the customers are given a better range. Some dishes will require certain kitchen equipment to be prepared with, while others will require the skills of the chef and the resources available to make it in. This means that, considering you start as a French specialist, American recipes will not be available for you to make at the start.
Perhaps the greatest feature of all is the extremely indepth information reports on each individual in the shop, including staff and customers. By accessing the information panel the player is given the option to view each customers individual feeling towards certain aspects, including their expected food quality and the actual quality they received. Not only this but staff also have reports on their situation, including moral and skill. The greatest depth can be found in the Chef's report, where the player is presented a complete report on the chef's ability to prepare individual dishes. You can even assign special dishes to individual chefs so their skills can be showcased to their fullest.
After all the building and designing is over and the restaurant is finally in full swing, the amount you have to do drops considerably. Despite maintaining your staff training and advertising levels there isn't much to do but sit back and watch, however this is not really a problem as an 'accelerate time' option is present. This allows you to quickly breeze past slow hours of the day where little business happens to the more hectic dinner and lunch hours, where the real money is made.
Technically speaking, the graphics in RE are actually rather impressive. Sure, their not going to implement today's latest technology but for this style of game they surpass my standards for sure. Every model in RE is rendered in 3D with relatively high resolution textures, so even zooming in fully looks appealing. On the P4/9700 Pro system we tested RE with, no problems occurred as expected, and we may see even more performance optimizations in the retail version.
All in all, Restaurant Empire is looking like yet another classic from Enlight. Since RE is really a one of a kind type game it is unlikely to picture it as a disappointment - if you have ever wanted to run your own restaurant then Restaurant Empire will satisfy in flying colors, and even if the urge has never possessed your mind, Restaurant Empire will still deliver hours of great gameplay. Expect more coverage of Restaurant Empire on 3DA as we anticipate the retail release.