Dubstep guns. Willy bats. Giant balls of yarn. None of these appear in Cusine Royale, but it’s a positive step towards the Saints Row Royale game I’ve been craving.
Cuisine Royale is an odd beast. It started life as an April Fool’s gag about a kitchen utensil-based version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and has since morphed into an actual, free-to-play game. And it’s surprisingly entertaining, though it has a couple of rough edges and a degree of grind.
As is the case with most battle royale games, you start off with nothing but a melee weapon to your name, forcing you to scramble for a ranged weapon of some description. Supernatural powers do come into play, but they don’t kick in until you’ve stretched your legs and murdered enough players to charge them up. There’s a palpable sense of panic as you make a bee-line for the nearest cover; you know it’s safer to crawl but the comforting prospect of arming yourself, even if it’s only with a handgun, eats away at your sense of logic.
Equally alarming is the fact that there are only 30 or so players per match; you’d think that, compared to PUBG‘s 100, you’d be in for an easier time – but far from it. Without the initial wave of murders, you get the sense that your foes are more careful, more calculating. That may well be a fallacy, especially when you look through your sniper rifle and see someone bunny-hopping around the landscape, but the reduced population dials up the tension.
Aside from solo mode, you can pair up with another player or make a team of four – the latter mode lets you resurrect players by carrying their skulls to a bonfire in the middle of the map. In theory, that’s a smart, sensible way of keeping players in the game; in practice, everyone clears off when they’ve died so my efforts of raising the dead didn’t bear fruit. Instead, I settled for looting their corpses and running off cackling, with more guns and health-replenishing food I could ever need.
Cuisine Royale is at its best when it leans into the madness. Running around with a grill pan banging against your bumcheeks is good for at least five minutes of childish laughter. Of the various traps you can use, one triggers a zombie invasion of the map which I’m dying to experience first hand. I suspect later seasons will see the addition of more maps and more characters, adding to the current four-character (cowboy, cowgirl, shaman and thunder god) roster.
The scenery in Cuisine Royale is a lot prettier than Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds‘ – but standing around to admire things will get you shot in the head or scorched by the shifting energy field that surrounds each level. Your view will also be obscured by your character since, even if you switch into first person mode, the game starts with you staring at your character’s backside. Which, if you haven’t paid for or earned additional outfits, will be clad in a rather small pair of pants and nothing else:
There’s a discomforting amount of open space no matter which of Cuisine Royale‘s maps you’re on. Even if you stumble across a car you’ll feel at risk – but the key is realising that the rest of your foes are in the same boat, too. Annoyingly, you can’t choose whether you leap into the Normandy or Mexico maps, which is frustrating. 90% of the time, I found myself roaming around Normandy which, with its handy wall-mounted machine guns, and abandoned houses, is a great area to hunker down in. But, after six straight Normandy matches, I found myself craving a trip to Mexico.
A lot of in-game items, particularly the wackier ones, are still linked to how much progress you make and how many achievements you hit. I tackled the game on the PC and PS4 and, on the latter platform, was given just under £100 of in-game currency and extras to play with. So, for example, instead of running around with a knife, my default melee weapon became some sort of Aztec cricket bat.
Despite the absurd cost of those extras though, I never felt that I had a serious advantage – though it may be that more seasoned Cuisine Royale players are able to make better use of these items. Given that Cuisine Royale is free, it’s not quite the same as having micro-transactions in a £45 game. And this is a game that let me roar across the land in a VW Beetle, a life-replenishing blood bag in my arm. Yes, I still lost, but I never felt like it was due to any failing on Cuisine Royale‘s part.
I can’t see Cuisine Royale becoming an esport, but it’s got a respectable following and I never once had problems getting a match. While the push to purchase/unlock items can be irritating, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. Even if you’re not last man standing, you can rest easy in the knowledge you went to your grave wearing a posing pouch and a plague doctor’s mask.