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Review by: Richard Leader
Published: March 25, 2003
Growing up, we learn in school that capitalism is a complex system with innumerable theories concerning invisible hands and everyone doing his or her part for the greater good. Upon graduation and entering into the job market, we find that it often does not seem far removed from the games of Monopoly we played as children. Money comes not as a natural consequence of our hard work but is often the chance result of forces beyond our control: if Enron executives can have fun playing with capitalism, why not the rest of us? Enter Enlight Software, the historic Hong Kong firm responsible for past hits such as Capitalism and Seven Kingdoms, who have struggled vigorously to bring reason back to the free market with their latest creation, Restaurant Empire.
While other titles recreating the culinary arts have been attempted in the past, Enlight has gone the extra mile to create the Rolls-Royce of tycoon games. Presented in real-time 3D, Restaurant Empire allows players to interact with their virtual establishments with an unprecedented degree of control. Besides just balancing the books, it is also necessary to be a smart interior designer, maximizing the comfort level of customers while retaining a high level of visual interest, while keeping track of the attitudes of patrons and employees alike. Wedded to this strong foundation is a narrative campaign that works exceedingly well as a tutorial and seamlessly integrates the various scenarios and their sundry of objectives into a single story. A “sandbox” mode is also included, allowing the player to strike out on his or her own, in an attempt to dominate the culinary arts in one of many famous cities the world over.
Players entering the campaign will take on the role of Armand LeBoeuf, an aspiring chef who is inheriting his uncle’s Parisian restaurant, Treize Table. As uncle Michel is retired, the establishment has been closed for some time and it us up to the player to reopen it and keep it afloat in a city where the megalithic OmniFood Corporation threatens to put independents out of business. Eighteen scenarios are included, some comprising multiple months in their duration, as the player is given a variety of goals to fulfill. Each month in Restaurant Empire is actually the result of a single day multiplied by a factor of 30 or so, making it necessary for participants to react quickly to the complaints that they receive from their virtual customers. Beginning with a small French restaurant, Armand must first learn how to physically construct the businesses that will make up his empire. Players are given the tools to build various restrooms and kitchen areas, include dumbwaiters (elevators that transport food directly from the kitchen to upstairs environs), and the all important receptionist desk for conducting patrons to their tables.
Though there are only three styles of cuisines represented in Restaurant Empire American, French, and Italian American establishments are subdivided into three additional types of environments: country-western, seafood, and rock & roll. Each has a variety of different furnishings. While some objects are merely decorative, tables and bathroom accessories such as stalls and sinks have an additional comfort rating. Placing tables too close together or near unpleasant sources of noise can detract from this quality. Decorative objects come in several varieties: those that hang on walls, are freestanding, and those that are placed on tables. These are all tied to the theme of the restaurant, though there is some overlap across genres. Each item placed in the building has a fixed maintenance cost, in addition to its initial purchase price, that must be accounted for when decorating as it will eventually eat into profits.
After this is complete, it is then necessary to hire the required staff. Captains are often dressed in black and work at taking orders and collecting payment; one is usually sufficient for each floor of an establishment. Servers function to deliver food and clear tables, as there are no dedicated bus staff. Receptionists direct traffic from their post by the entrance, a meager task, though they must be well trained lest they give a bad impression. Workers in each of these three tasks has a skill level, which can be increased through training, and their own individual moral which is based on the success of the restaurant, the fame of the chef, and their own salary. The combination of both factors influences their efficiency at the job and how prone to rudeness they are during their interactions with customers.
In addition to washing dishes, porters are required to move food and drink from waiting stations to the dumbwaiters. They prioritize the second task over the first, so a backlog of dishes can build up during the two peak “rushes” of the day. If there are too many unwashed dishes, patrons will begin commenting on the cleanliness of the restaurant. Dishes can be cleaned in either sinks or in electric washers, the latter take up less space but are more expensive to maintain, and information included with the game hints that a well trained porter might be more efficient with a sink, although this is hard to verify.
Chefs are the natural cornerstone of any establishment, although in the campaign they can often be hard to come by as players are unable to hire them using the normal channels. Instead, many offer to join up as scripted events throughout the scenarios, each bringing a number of different new recipes with him, and are accessed in an “adventure mode” that allows the participant to enter a variety of other locations. Other chefs, typically of lower skill, will enter the player’s restaurant and offer their services. Each has a preferred cuisine and is rated in skill for all the available recipes at the player’s disposal, although this is affected by morale in the same way that it influences the skills of other employees.
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