After inheriting a rundown truck from their late father, a mild-mannered foodie sets about restoring it to its former glory. Refreshingly, this tale isn’t motivated by a desire to create a business empire, but rather the dream of making their old man proud by following in their footsteps. It’s an endearing premise, helping to carry the story mode until its conclusion. You aren’t alone in your quest either – it so transpires that your father was well connected, with a few individuals helping to get your new career off the ground. Every good story needs a villain too, and that position is filled by Dennis – a business rival. Like a deconstructed Big Mac, all the components are here for something delectable.
The story mode starts off how you’d expect. The truck has seen better days, and there’s not much cash in the kitty for improvements. You’re introduced to the basics by Clara, the friendly owner of the nearby food wholesaler. She advises on how to buy stock, customise the van – which can be kitted out with wraps, trims, novelty items, and more – and purchase kitchen essentials such as a fridge and a fryer. Equipment can be upgraded over time, and by driving around town, you’ll discover hidden collectibles that unlock new truck parts.
Yes, Food Truck Simulator has a small town to drive around. It isn’t much to look at, being quite angular as well as suffering from PS2-era fogging, but regardless you’re able to head to locations, pick up stock, and explore. New selling spots periodically unlock, including Chinatown and an Italian district. You can probably guess what kinds of dishes you’ll be serving up in these locales.
Until then, you’re a burger and fry guy. Orders come in and must be prepared, from a first-person perspective, in a manner not unlike Cooking Mama. Buns must be sliced and toasted, patties grilled, tomatoes and onions sliced, fries seasoned with condiments, and everything then placed in the correct takeaway bag. Your hard graft earns not just cash, but prestige too, and perhaps a tip. At the end of the day, the truck must be cleaned, spoiled food thrown away, and it’s likely that a pitstop at the petrol station is called for too.
A few hours in, pizza making is introduced, requiring dough to be rolled and the correct toppings added. Then comes the most complex of dishes: sushi rolls. Rice must be cooked perfectly, ingredients added, rolls folded and chopped, and then placed in a box with either wasabi or soy sauce. In between new dishes being added, the story slowly unfolds, with a few surprise mini-games to play and one moral choice to make early on.
Making dishes forms the bulk of the experience, and it can be quite demanding. Generally, you’ll only have one or two orders on the go – with each location having typical clientele – and these can take a few minutes to prepare. Some juggling is required, but perhaps not as much as you’d expect. It’s slicing foodstuff that slows the whole process down, rather than the cooking aspect – which only lasts around 30 seconds. It’s clear this was intended to be played with a mouse, as with a controller, slicing items is finicky. Well, not so much the slicing aspect, but rather grabbing small slices off the chopping board via a cursor. The board needs to be kept clear, and this involves painstakingly grabbing slices of chili and whatnot and either reallocating them to the counter or container. It slows the experience considerably. In the developer’s defense, they have tried to find a workaround by adding a tray that automatically sorts sliced food into a container, but it’s still a faff.
Other telling signs make it obvious that this is a PC-to-console conversion. While a marked improvement over other games from the same publisher, the controls and UI aren’t wholly intuitive. Sometimes ‘A’ is used to confirm, while other times it’s ‘X’. Some menus are navigated with the d-pad, while others the analogue stick. Then on top of this, it’s prone to crashing once every couple of hours. Indeed, there is a rough feel to the whole shebang, suggesting it ideally needed an early access phase or a few more months in development. This is one sloppy Big Mac.
Despite these setbacks – along with its Xbox 360 era visuals – this is a compelling experience nevertheless. Each shift lasts for around ten minutes, ergo enough time to make 5-6 dishes. Then you’ll get to drive around town, perhaps purchase an upgrade, and progress the story. This loop is quite enjoyable, and while I did occasionally curse the controls, I found the story mode entertaining to play through, with a few surprises. There’s a sandbox mode too, recommended for once the story mode is complete – and this mode alone takes a good ten hours.
Unlike some recent console simulators, I felt that this was something the developers genuinely wanted to create and share with the world, instead of being mere contract work. It’s structurally robust, while also being surprisingly heartfelt in its approach – something that pays dividends when it comes to enduring its rougher patches. Food Truck Simulator is crusty, like a pizza, but also kind of moreish.
Drago’s Food Truck Simulator is out now on Xbox One. Published by Ultimate Games. Also available on PC.