Monday, June 13, 2011

There's going to be hell tonight

Hell's Kitchen
Game Category: Casual, Time Management
Developer / Distributor: Ludia / Ubisoft
Release Date: 22 Sep 2008 
Rating: ESRB - Teen

Gordon Ramsay has become sort of a fixture in the hall at home because my mother is hopelessly addicted to watching him on Cable TV. Whenever he's on, I usually find myself distracted from my computer just to see what this talented and famous chef was up to. Gordon's rather well known for his fiery temperament in his shows as well as his tendency to blurt out profanities. So I am also watching along just to see what colorful language Gordon would be using in that episode.

You can judge from the titles of Gordon's shows (like The Boiling Point, Kitchen Nightmares, and The F Word), that it's not easy being a chef. His job is so stressful that you would probably pity the poor chef-wannabe contestants that appear on Hell's Kitchen - a reality cooking competition TV show hosted by Gordon himself. The contestants get so stressed out by all that lambasting from Gordon that I sometimes wonder why they even bother to put themselves through that torture.

I guess it was inevitable, but we now have a computer game based on Hell's Kitchen. And it's hosted by none other than Gordon; get ready for stress under fire (from Gordon Ramsay himself). Don't scream now, Ubisoft obviously know what they are doing since this game from Ludia is obviously targeted at people who watch Gordon religiously and also have a penchant love for casual games.

Ooh... intimidating!
Game Play 
There are two modes of single player games in Hell's Kitchen - Career and Arcade. In Career mode you get to manage both a restaurant and the accompanying kitchen through five weeks of "hell". That works out to be 35 levels that gradually ramp up in difficulty.

Arcade is a sub-mode of Career that has you doing endless work in the kitchen area only. The layout of this kitchen is different from the one in Career mode. More of this later.

I have earned three gold stars in Career mode

Also accessible from the Main menu is a Recipe Book and Bonus Video. The Recipe Book contains quite a number of recipes divided into three different categories - there are 3 pages worth of recipes for each of them. The categories are Starters, Main Courses, and Desserts. If you have just started out playing, you will find only a small handful of recipes are available for you to view. As for the rest, you must play the Career mode to unlock them. Each successful work day at your Career unlocks one new recipe from the book.

The Bonus Video, in my opinion, is really nothing impressive... it's just a short teaser snippet from the fifth season of Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen.

Anybody for Prime Rib?
Career mode starts you off easy in the first week. The first day gets you on your feet by putting you through a  tutorial that explains all the game play mechanics clearly.

You are first shown a dining room. There is a waiter in here whom you shall be controlling. There are a few actions that you can perform using the waiter:
  • Greet customers at the lectern. Your customers will automatically be ushered to an empty table where they will start reading the menu.
Time to switch over to the Kitchen from the Dining room 
  • Take orders. Once your customers are satisfied, they put down the menu. You must click on the table to take their orders. Orders are automatically copied down and sent to the Kitchen.
  • Deliver a lovely meal. All food platters that comes out from the Kitchen is set aside at the bottom center of the screen. Click on the meal counter and the waiter automatically brings the food to the correct table.
  • Clearing the table. Once customers are done, click on the table to clear the mess. 
Five tables worth of mayhem
When you send an order to the Kitchen, you should use the Switch Room button to enter the Kitchen. The display is changed to reflect a fantasy kitchen from some fancy uptown restaurant. This will be where you cook the meals your customers have ordered.

You perform a different set of actions in the Kitchen. They are:
  • Prepare ingredients. There are two to six types of ingredients arrayed before you. At the start you only have two ingredients to worry about - raw fruits and vegetables, and grains. Click on an ingredient to prepare them in the bowl. The ingredients are picked up and spun around while some magical slicing and dicing occurs. Once done, a completed bowl containing the prepared ingredients appears.

Preparing ingredients - see the spinning chicken?
  • Cook meals. You must next cook meals. Some dishes require up to three types of ingredients. So if there aren't enough, it's back to preparing the required ingredients. The number of dishes you cook depends on how many people there were at the table. The ingredients required for each dish are shown as well as the number of seconds it takes to cook the dish. You must cook your food such that all dishes are completed at the same time and served hot together to your customers.
  • Transfer to plates. Once a timer has reached zero, you must immediately move a cooking dish to plates. Once all plates are done, they are automatically sent out from the Kitchen back to the Dining Room.

    Transfering cooked meals to platters and ready to serve
    The Kitchen gets reorganized into a different layout in certain days of your Career. This layout does not include the Dining Room, so there's no need to worry about any customers during these special days. For all intents and purposes, the game play here is similar to the Arcade mode.

    The Kitchen is now divided into two cooking areas and Gordon now sports two red hot bars representing his patience at the top center of the display. You must prepare ingredients and cook your meals timely at both sides of the Kitchen. You have a prescribed number of meals to cook in Career mode, but an infinite number to complete in Arcade mode.

    Further into the game, you will get more ingredient types to prepare, and the ovens located below the ingredients are also put into use.

    The Arcade mode is easier than playing a full fledged level
    During the game, if you act too slowly or commit any mistakes, Gordon is going to chide, reprimand, or throw an expletive your way (the F-word is censored though - Hollywood style). At the same time, the red hot bars will slowly rise to reflect Gordon's anger. To reduce his anger, you must be a multitasking master in your approach to preparing the meals. If you do your cooking well, you get awarded stars that will tend to cool Gordon down a bit.

    The Switch Room button also flashes now and then to indicate you must return to the Dining Room to resolve a new situation there (for example, another group has entered the restaurant, or a table is ready to place their order, etc.) This is conversely true when you are in the Dining Room. If you see the Switch Room button flash in the Dining Room, you need to fly back straightaway to the Kitchen to resolve any cooking woes you see there.

    The order gets much more complicated later on
    The graphics is very crisp, clean, and generally not too cluttered. The arrangement of tables, lectern, ingredients, cooking stoves, platters, and so on is generally very good (except for the oven that seem to be misplaced below the ingredients). The animations for preparation of ingredients, cooking of food, customers getting bored or angry, all look smooth.

    Next, Gordon is the key to this game, so it is no surprise that the animation of him appears very life-like. His expression of anger and occasional whimsical smile is so realistic that I won't be surprised if you thought it was Gordon himself in the game.

    Trust me... you don't want to know what Gordon just said
    The game's main theme music is different from that of Hell's Kitchen (which featured "Fire" by the Ohio Players). Like the rest of the music featured in the game, the music is generally not too shabby. I found the sound effects to be pretty neat for this type of game. Finally, the digital rendition of Gordon is voiced by none other than Gordon Ramsay himself. This is obviously an excellent treat for fans of the Scottish chef.

    • Feel the pressure in Hell's Kitchen. Get to experience first hand the stress from the show as Gordon berates you for every little mistake you make.
    • The game features Gordon Ramsay as himself voicing the virtual Gordon.
    • You can print and even email your friends the recipes from this game. 
    • The game play is too repetitive after the first week. There's just not much depth in this game. Even the Arcade mode is too much of a clone of the kitchen from the main game. It would have been better if there was some variation to the locale. There is also no chance to upgrade anything in Hell's Kitchen unlike some other time management games out there.
    • Too much screen switching between the Dining Room and Kitchen is involved just so you can get the golden score.
    • The game should have provided more types of unlockables other than the recipes. 

    Make sure you read the tips before you start
    Hell's Kitchen will keep you entertained for a few hours before you realize that the game mechanics is rather shallow and repetitive. You also need to be a super chef (or excellent at multitasking) to get 5 stars for every day of the Career mode. It's definitely a no-brainer getting Hell's Kitchen though, especially if you are a fan of Gordon Ramsay, or a fan of casual time management games.

    Anyway, you might have been wondering why I bought this game - why it's a present for my mother on Mother's Day, of course. This game will make a good present for your loved ones. Trust me on that count.

    Daily PC Game Review Score: 7 / 10
    Review Date: 13 Jun 2011


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