While not the most ambitious sequel, Overcooked 2 still ranks among the best couch co-op has to offer.
In many ways, playing Overcooked 2 is like returning to a favourite restaurant after a long absence and ordering what you always used to have. The comfort of familiar, nourishing food is hugely enjoyable, of course, but it's the sense of coming back to something that's truly special. When playing Overcooked 2 there's a lot more shouting and swearing, but the principle is the same - this sequel is strikingly similar to the first game, but a few well-chosen additions and refinements breathe new life into one of the best couch co-op experiences going.
For its part, Overcooked 2 assumes its players are already familiar with the first game and isn't shy about ramping up the difficulty early on. This means a steeper learning curve for anybody new to the series, but on the whole it's a good thing - before you've so much as finished the first game world, you're already tackling more intricate recipes and employing far more advanced strategies than the equivalent stages in the first Overcooked.
New recipes include sushi, pasta and steamed dumplings, while returning favourites such as burgers and pizza feature additional ingredients to make things a little more fiddly. Right from the get-go, then, Overcooked 2 demands more from its players. Add some truly ambitious level layouts to the mix and it comes as no surprise that the 'food burning/fire imminent' alarm is one you'll be hearing a lot more in Overcooked 2. Moving parts and sudden divides are nothing new to seasoned players, of course, but these obstacles are now more numerous - and nefarious - than ever.
One, for instance, has you making fried chicken and chips while the team is split in two and housed on a pair of rafts floating down a river (or later, a swamp). With ingredients kept separate from cooking stations, it's a frenzy of ferrying things back and forth in order to fulfil the most basic of orders. I went back to the first Overcooked to refresh my memory before writing this, finding some levels I used to think were pretty challenging now seem simplistic by comparison.
Overcooked 2 is definitely a more challenging game, but happily its chefs are also better prepared. New to the sequel is the ability to toss raw ingredients to one another / around the kitchen willy-nilly. Where before ingredients had to be walked all the way to their destination, throwing gives a huge boost to players' manoeuvrability and versatility. That chicken and chips on a raft level I mentioned earlier? You can speed things up by bunging ingredients at one another and - if you're really good - you can even chuck things straight into the fryer. Lobbing things around is also a tremendous way to wind up your opponents in versus mode, which I'll return to shortly.
I have only one gripe with Overcooked 2, and that is with the speed the plates come back. I realise that sounds extraordinarily petty, but stick with me on this one. The joy in Overcooked 2 is that it's a game of simple systems that have to be manipulated in tandem. When this works well it's great, and when they break down it's also great - in fact, that's where the most memorable bits of Overcooked come from.
Those failures, however, have to come from the player - the moment the game itself causes a hitch or delay in the flow of these systems, it effectively shoves another chef into the kitchen: an extra person who isn't pulling their weight, only it's not someone you do anything about. In Overcooked 2, it's the plate return speed that's at fault. At several points while playing with friends we found ourselves ready to serve dishes, only to find there weren't any plates left - not even dirty ones. Occasionally, it felt like we were working in a restaurant that only had two plates to go around and it really slowed us down. It's a relatively minor problem - it never stopped us passing a level, for instance - but it can feel frustrating.
As well as the ability to throw tomatoes at your colleagues while waiting for plates, Overcooked 2 also introduces online play. This ran swiftly and smoothly when I tested it out, swiftly matching me and Eurogamer editor Oli with two opponents for a kitchen showdown. We quickly learned Overcooked is a very different beast when played over the internet rather than in the same room - mainly because it's far easier to shout at someone when you're sitting next to them. To make up for a lack of voice communication, Overcooked 2 allows you to emote - saying things like preparing, cooking or serving. After spending so many hours jabbering non-stop, it's bizarre to be navigating a kitchen in total silence, but it's also surprisingly effective. With emoting taking up precious time and shouting not an option, it forces you to pay attention to what the other chef is up to - responding to their needs and going where they aren't, while they try to do the same. It's a breath of fresh air in a game in which players often seek to delegate - yelling 'we need lettuce' without checking to see whether anyone has actually gone to chop some now one chef has loudly absolved themselves of any responsibility (Gretchen, if you're reading this, I forgive you).
On the flip side of the burger, playing online made me realise the limitations of the in-game emotes. While useful, they only really allow players to narrate what it is they are doing - which, to be frank, should already be obvious. While delegating is a pain in Overcooked (seriously Gretchen it's fine, let's just forget about it), occasionally people do need to be prompted - if they're the only one with access to a particular ingredient, say - and not having a clear way of doing that is a bit of a frustration.
But then Overcooked 2 over the internet was never going to match the fun of playing it in a room with some friends and it's there that this excels all over again. Overcooked 2 may be more of an improved recipe than a completely new menu, but it remains an excellent sequel and a delightful co-op experience.
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