Trevor Chan's Restaurant Empire Review (PC)

Let me take a moment to drop in a quick little ditty about myself. Think of this as an intimate moment between you the reader (I would hope there are at least a couple out there) and I, the reviewer. Another step in the dance of the game review, so to speak.

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I am a bit of an old bayonet. By this, I mean that I hail from the gaming days of the old Apple II when in strategy at least, the classic SSI turn based games were King. Now having been raised at the knee of The Greats, I can say I have a strong predisposition towards mayhem and violence, as it pertains to computer gaming. In short if there isn’t bombing, shooting or stabbing in a strategy game, I am of the grumpy old crowd which raises an eyebrow and compares it to, say…lawn bowling as a contact sport.

When Restaurant Empire by Enlight Inc arrived at my door, I have to say I smirked and raised that eyebrow, thinking; “Oh great, this should be good” in a most nonobjective tone. However, as I began to get into the game I quickly began to feel something in that lump of coal that passes for a soul…a tingling sensation called “fun”.

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Restaurant Empire is a corporate genre game in the tradition of the Tycoon series. It involves the building and managing of one or more Restaurants throughout the world. At first glance, this may seem a simple affair but the sheer depth of the game and “clay-like” environment of the Restaurants themselves, immediately make this game stand out as something special.

The game is strictly a solo affair with no multiplayer action but I am not sure how well another player would fit into this type of game. As a single player game, it excels at engaging the player to aim for challenging goals while giving an almost unlimited number of options in achieving them.

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Restaurant Empire falls into what I like to call “ant farm games”. These games (Sim City, Populous and Caesar III to name a few) allow the player to create and environment in detail and then let’s AI “ants” loose inside. The player has no direct control over the “ants” but can move the hill around, plant a tree or introduce a magnifying glass.

Now for some this may not be a lot of fun and until I played this game, I have to say I would have agreed with them but I found the challenge of trying to attract and keep customers happy in Chez Capt very interesting and engaging.

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Restaurant Empire allows the player to build and run up to three styles of restaurants; American, Italian and French. In the “sandbox” mode, the player is given the “world” in the form of a city, a pot of money and a building. From there almost everything is up to you to setup and keep going. Wallpaper, seating plans and styles, decorations, hiring-and-firing and recipes/menus are all part of this setup. There is more but suffice to say that the player is given a very broad field on which to play. You can even re-size your kitchen or toilets if you find that later in the game you do not have enough room.

Once built, the Restaurant needs to attract and keep customers happy. This is not an easy task as the people in this world are fussy and generally ungrateful. Mark my words, you will hate those digital little whiners as they complain about just about everything from noise and food quality, to how hard the chairs are on their pampered fat little asses!! Ahem…nevertheless, keeping them content will drive up the star rating of your place, which in turn will guide what you can charge and how fancy you can look. You also have to keep employee training, marketing and menu prices in mind, in what amounts to a very fine balance. All of this puts pressure on the bottom line and making money to buy better recipes, hire better staff and eventually open more restaurants, which is the name of the game.

The game runs in real time but during slow periods it has a handy dandy time acceleration function which you can employ to keep things moving along. You will have to “pop out of warp” quite often as random events and complaints will set off an in game alarm which you will have to check out to ensure that you aren’t headed towards disaster.

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I found the Sandbox mode fairly engaging on its own but for those that need gratification there is a Role Playing Element which pushes the player along a series of 18 scenarios. Now the story is not the best I have seen (it is pretty campy to be honest) and the cut scenes can be painful to watch, as can the sometimes inane “quests” you will be sent on…”go find X who will sell you Y so you can make Z” type stuff which is more frustrating than fun. However, the RPG does set goals that have to be met in a given period. These goals most often fall into making so much money or achieving a set star rating. There are some interesting little gems here, though, as you need to win cooking competitions or keep the food critic pleased.

The RPG is very good at setting challenging goals and giving a player a reason to keep playing. Each scenario lasted about 1 hr or so for me so the RPG give a solid 20 hrs of game time which is pretty decent in this day and age. All in all, I found that this element enhanced game play, even though it was somewhat ham-handed at times.

Restaurant Empire ships almost bug free. It only crashed once on me and a robust quick game save capability helped ease that pain.

The graphics are fair and more functional than inspired. The RPG cut scene animations are amateur and can be excruciating to watch. The camera system takes some getting used to but once you have it down it is actually quite flexible and easy to navigate. The view is 3-D isometric but you can zoom in and pan with a moderate amount of freedom. As most of the “world” is in fact inside your restaurants you will find your camera quite adequate to the task.

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If I have a serious complaint about this game, it has to be with the sound. First off, the RPG is entirely text driven with no voice acting. This can mean some lengthy reads that takes away from the experience rather than adds to it. As to the soundtrack, I am convinced they got it off a bad 70’s porn movie …not that I would know firsthand, of course, but “cheesy” definitely springs to mind.

Overall, it is the actual mechanics of game play that carry this game. The producers would do well to look hard at their visual and auditory production values if they want to release a sequel.

In conclusion, Restaurant Empire provides a classic brunch overall: not quite breakfast and not quite lunch but still a good meal with a slice of melon. The requirement to maintain a fine balance of many conflicting factors in a very flexible and “malleable” world opens the door to a very fun gaming experience in the tradition of SimCity or Ceaser III.
If you like hands off/“ant farm” strategy games and are tired of all the killing, Restaurant Empire may very well be for you.

by Capt
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