Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
System requirements: Windows 2000/ME/XP/Vista, 1 ghz Intel Pentium or equivalent AMD CPU, 256 mb RAM (512 mb for Vista), 128 mb DirectX 9.0c-compatible video card, 4x DVD-ROM drive, 2 gb hard-drive space, DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound card
Release date: Available now
Like many American teenagers, my first job ever was flipping burgers at McDonald’s. It was the worst job I ever had (and one of the shortest; I was mercifully fired after only three months). My time behind the grill was so brief that I never got to understand what it really takes to run a restaurant. But now I do after spending time playing developer Enlight’s Restaurant Empire 2, the sequel to their 2003 eatery sim Restaurant Empire. And while the businesses in RE2 are somewhat higher-end than your average corner greasy spoon, its slavish attention to detail shows you that there’s more to the food biz than tossing together a few recipes and inviting the public to check out your wares.
In RE2 you play as Armand, recent culinary school graduate, who visits his former restaurateur uncle Michel in Paris. Intense competition from a corporate giant has forced Michel to close his restaurant, Treize a Table, but being too proud to sell it, he has instead left it unused and vacant in the City of Lights. Impetuous young Armand suggests that they reopen the business together. By this time, Michel has grown to enjoy his retirement, but he agrees to allow Armand to take a shot at returning the once-bustling restaurant to its former glory.
As RE2 begins, Uncle Michel talks you through a detailed tutorial of how to use the game’s various controls and functions. You start with a fully furnished and staffed restaurant. Michel teaches you how to add extra furnishings and decorations to the dining rooms, hire and fire staff, organize your menu and deal with customers, some of whom offer to sell you recipes or tips to make your current ones better. Once you’ve learned the basics, Michel turns you loose on the Parisian public, giving you objectives that must be reached within three game months. An extensive interface gives you all the information you need to tweak your business in the right direction.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about the restaurant business after spending 10 or so hours with RE2, it’s this: if you want to make money, gouge the public until their fork hands bleed. When you reach the fourth scenario, one of your primary tasks is to earn a monthly profit of $25,000. I opened the recipe menu and discovered that the default prices for most of my offerings were as much as 18 times the cost of the ingredients used to make them. Being a customer-friendly manager, I decreased the menu prices on all of my dishes…and promptly found myself hopelessly behind in my profit quota. It was only after I jacked up the prices over and above their original defaults that I finally made the prerequisite profit and could move on to the next of the game’s 16 stages. I also had to make adjustments in the floor layouts, improve the quality of the ingredients used to make my food, get rid of some of the slackers on staff and replace them with experienced employees, and satisfy a mobster (the creatively named Don Corleone), who made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse.
If micromanagement is your thing in PC gaming, then RE2 is the one for you. Even the smallest detail of running a fancy restaurant is under your control, and there’s no AI to take off some of the pressure. The game’s Information Center allows you to set your restaurant’s opening and closing hours, train your staff (which theoretically you shouldn’t have to do, since they’re all fairly experienced before you hire them), buy print and electronic media advertising, and take out and repay loans. Much of this you need to discover all by yourself, since the tutorial is sadly lacking in the details; some of the concepts you need to understand in Scenario 4 don’t get a tutorial discussion until Scenario 5. Enlight has made all of this micromanagement more difficult than it already is by creating an unintuitive interface that doesn’t allow you to open more than one info window at a time. This forces you to bounce back and forth between items such as the recipe and menu displays just to change the prices of your dishes. The right-click camera rotation system should come with an airsick bag; the camera is very touchy and hard to control, often spinning wildly with the tiniest of mouse movements. There are hints that RE2 has been in the works for a long time; the maximum available monitor resolution is 1280 x 1024, and the camera zoom feature can be controlled by what is described as “a newer mouse with a scroll wheel.” My staff had a tendency to wander the floor of an empty restaurant, stopping to serve customers who were not there. And in the creepiest part of the game, the overhead view of the building includes a top-down view inside the rest rooms, where you can watch as your customers answer the call of nature.
My first instinct after enduring the ancient-looking graphics and bad writing in the early stages of Restaurant Empire 2 was to pass it off as a low-budget time waster destined for the bargain bin. But despite everything that is wrong with this game, there I was, trying to find the right combination of staff, recipes and menu pricing to finally meet that goal and move on to the next level. The average gamer will become frustrated quickly and move on, but those who enjoy being in control of the tiniest of details will find lots to keep themselves occupied. If nothing else, it’ll give you a chance to put your Wharton MBA to good use.