Available : March 2003 (US) / April 2003 (UK)

Restaurant Empire © Enlight Software
Preview By Peiter Anderson

When it comes to cooking my skills extend about as far as the microwave. I was looking for an excuse to perfect my French accent whilst prancing around in a pinny, when this lovely little dish found its way on my plate. No doubt you have been exposed to a slew of tycoon/sim games by now. We have had everything from running your own trailer park to releasing your sim spawn online. With EA’s sim franchise reaching its peak now with its debuts on various consoles and the online implementation it seems now would be a perfect time to see how well a new bred of simulation would impact the genre.

This game revolved around Armand (your character), a young rookie fresh from the scholars of fine cuisine looking to make his mark on the restaurant business. Like any youngster looking for handouts you head straight to your family; namely your uncle, who for some reason has an empty restaurant gathering dust due to the unscrupulous tactics of an unnamed ‘Big Box’ restaurant. After a little persuasion your kind yet possibly senile uncle gives you the keys to his restaurant, on the basis that it manages to stay out of the red and actually make some profit.

When starting a new game you are taken through a very insightful and well presented tutorial ushering you though all the steps that are needed for managing your restaurant. Initially you are shown how to manage the simplistic interface which shows you your profit, loss, status and so on, after which you get to play with your restaurant, arranging new items including paintings, statues and flowers ensuring that your restaurant is the classiest establishment this side of the Eiffel tower. You also get the chance to hire and fire members of staff, and even perfect the presentation and contents of your menu by choosing every course individually. Each tutorial is more scenario based, in that each section teaches you more about the game and how to manage it better including setting mildly challenging targets for you to achieve than have you press ‘next’ every minute. Every option gives a wealth of information for you to change from the price per ingredient to per dish, however sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. When you are given so many options and initially little help it seems all so daunting. But as you progress you can see that the customisation is probably one of the games highlights giving you the opportunity to change every aspect of your budding restaurant giving you every chance to become the entrepreneur that you yearn to be. After every scenario you must report back to your uncle for the next instalment, this continues until you have passed every test and your uncle is happy that you are competent to take over and run his pride and joy.

Onscreen happenings can also get a little confusing when you have 50 or so customers running around in your 2 floored restaurant, however the game handles it well offering lag free exploration of your premises. If anything important is reported about your restaurant or members of staff it is reported and can be seen by a visiable-flashing icon in the lower right hand side of your screen. Normal rantings range from lack of seating to slow delivery times. This is both a good and bad thing, as it is nice to know if one of your customers is unhappy or if one of your staff is under-performing but when it happens on your first outing it can be overwhelming, as you may not be properly taught how to deal with it. It is kind of pointless seeing as your efforts to fix the problem normally result in the trial and error method. There are different speeds at which you can run the game in order to whiz through the night’s customers, which is good because there is only so long you can sit and watch a simulated character chow down on their 4th slice of cake.

The animations and graphics in most Sim/Tycoon games never really seem to be that great as the games are generally focussed on the content. However this does not really apply to Restaurant Empire, as each scenario is engrossingly lifelike in building design and aesthetics. The characters themselves are well animated and processed but given the angle and depth at which you play the game it is not really easy to see the expressions on clients faces. The game designers (like many before it) address this issue by displaying expressions above each characters head. This way you can tell whether customers are happy, sad or annoyed because your latest member of staff just dropped their dessert. With so much happening on screen at times I thought that I would at least get some sort of lag or distortion but the engine seems to handle this well, preserving all aspects of the visual goodness. Each item in your ever-growing food inventory is even rendered in 3d that makes looking through the menu both luscious and appetising.

The musical score sounds like something you would normally find in a 70s b-movie, but somehow seems to fit very well into the games ever changing atmosphere and at some points adds a calming effect to the on screen hustle and bustle. The only real quibble with the score is like many other games before it at some points it sounds somewhat generic and repetitive. With not many highlights or low points to it the musical aspect to Restaurant Empire is just introduced underneath the gameplay with a simple and basic feel to it.

Restaurant Empire may not be a genre defining game but in all fairness it has not set out to be. The game Offers graphical performance outperforming some of its peers and an engrossing gameplay that will inspire anyone to become the “Counter King”. Setting up and running your initial restaurant can be both a daunting and easy task depending on the task with hundreds of different ways to fit your restaurant that would eclipse any interior designer. Musically the game does not really offer more than a laid back and simple feel, but with a game of this genre, would you want other than that? Restaurant Empire is a 5 star establishment offering a wealth of visual eye candy and challenging gameplay action that puts some other sim games to shame.