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I’m hunkered down in a farmhouse in Normandy, cradling a Mosin Nagant. The fact that this is the wrong front for a Russian weapon is the first clue that this might be alternate history.
The second is the downed teammate who crawls towards my hiding place under the kitchen table, moaning in pain, wearing nothing but a fresh set of boxers patterned with lipstick kisses. It’s just another episode in the strange adventures of a magic biker who teleports in short bursts across the French countryside.
Take a walk down the daft end of the battle royale spectrum – past the pier where you’ll spot Fortnite dangling a fishing rod – and you’ll find Cuisine Royale. As the mainstream steers the genre back towards some semblance of realism, relocating the action to proxy wars in Eastern Europe, Darkflow Software is happy to fly a feathery headdress in the name of fun.
Like Warzone, the early part of Cuisine Royale sees you gathering armour to bulk up for the fight to come. But rather than stuffing chunks of bulletproof metal down the front of your vest, you’re covering yourself in kitchenware: strapping a bowl to your bottom and a colander to your head. Play smart and it won’t be draining brains by the match’s end.
Some of the very best gear is found in ‘tactical fridges’, deployed on country lanes to store the food that heals you during battle, alongside armour and other tools that wouldn’t traditionally be refrigerated. It’s not uncommon to see top players entering the final ring with a Cuban cigar between their lips and an IV bag dangling above their shoulder, the picture of perfect health.
Despite the silliness, there’s an unlikely historicity to Cuisine Royale, mostly rooted in its weaponry, which will be familiar to anybody with a passing interest in the Second World War. There’s something reassuring about the long grip of the MP40, associated with the earliest Call of Duty games, and most gamers instantly know how to use an M1 Bazooka.
The otherwise third-person perspective zooms straight down iron sights when you hit the right mouse button, and feeding a belt of bullets into your machine gun produces an authentic symphony of rattles, ricochets, and tinkling shell casings. Moreover, there’s a surprising poignancy to the narrow bridges and peeling wallpaper of the Northern France map – too picturesque for war, even as you traverse it in your underwear.
Blended with the undisguised surrealism of loot-shooting, Cuisine Royale’s period action takes on the tone of pulp literature. That’s helped along no small amount by its fondness for the occult. Oh yes: these battles are oozing with supernatural phenomena.
“The otherwise third-person perspective zooms straight down iron sights when you hit the right mouse button, and feeding a belt of bullets into your machine gun produces an authentic symphony of rattles, ricochets, and tinkling shell casings.”
Remember my downed comrade in the farmhouse? He didn’t make it. But even then, there was an opportunity to bring him back: to take his heart to a fire and sacrifice it to the flames, as an offering to whatever dark gods watch over Cuisine Royale. But I’d have to be careful – fireplaces are also the perfect spot to launch an ambush.
In fact, sacrifice is a central tenet of Cuisine Royale’s creepy new faith. When you kill enemies, you collect souls, which can be cashed in for the eerie abilities that cling to each character in the game’s roster. Valentine ‘Viper’ Chase, biker queen of the game’s new Black Sun update, can use Flickering Step – a sort of supernatural dash that allows you to escape from a firefight, or instantly flank an enemy’s position, or even leap out of the jaws of the encroaching ring of death.
It’s made an intriguing tactical proposition by its limited reservoir: every dash takes six seconds from a 24 second total, meaning you can either make four jumps straight away, or time two or three more carefully across your allocation.
Then there are the rituals, activated by drawing symbols on the walls like a mad cultist. One popular example summons a horde of zombies, which can send you scrambling for high ground. The Black Sun update introduces a sudden eclipse that can leave rivals literally in the dark about your location, and a global flood that dangerously raises the water level like a puzzle in Tomb Raider.
Special mention should go to the brown note, too. When it plays, you can hop into an outside toilet and be flushed to a different part of the map. ‘Tis a silly game.
The most devious mystic signs can be used as traps, including one that defiles that most hallowed of objects, the randomly spawned fridge. If even the mid-match snack can’t be saved from demonic influence, what hope for humanity?
Given all this unearthly activity, perhaps Cuisine Royale’s natural home isn’t Normandy after all, but its second map, set in Mexico. There, Mayan temples rise up from the cracked earth, and the blood sacrifice doesn’t seem quite so strange after all.