Definitely Not Fried Chicken is a drug enterprise management simulator developed by Dope Games and published by Merge Games. It released on Steam Early Access on January 18, 2023, and the trailer made me think straight away of Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul where he ran his fried chicken restaurant as a front for his drug trafficking business. In this game, a fried chicken joint is just one such business that can help launder money while you grow and develop various narcotics and make money in the underground.
It goes without saying that we at Roundtable Co-Op do not condone any such illegal activity in real life, but it’s harmless fun to dabble in video games that feature it. This game is not without some faults and has a rather steep learning curve, but it is an early access game after all. The tutorial starts with you managing a restaurant for ‘The Major’ who looks a lot like Colonel Sanders, and he tasks you with outfitting and restoring his fried chicken restaurant. To do this we needed to add a chicken coop and a nugget fryer, employ staff both to cook and run the restaurant, hire a cleaner and build facilities to support the staff.
Modifying the floor plan of an established building is grid-based, and when you go to place a new item, it shows you how many grids squares it will take up and allow you to rotate it by pressing R. You can add all sorts of things like doors, windows, tables, cash registers and so on, but the tutorial gives you specifics to learn the ropes and does a decent job at the starting basics. Staff need to be looked after, so we built some facilities at the back of the shop; a bathroom and a rec room, and then set about repairing broken signs outside the building. Once everything had started to run well, he fires us! Rude!
You are then greeted by ‘Mr Attorney’ who offers you two vacant lots in a derelict park to start a business in the ‘recreational materials’ field. We are told about the University, Gun Shop and Scrapyard which we can trade for new upgraded equipment, weapons/traps and vehicles respectively. We can purchase more land space later, but we needed to understand how to play the game first and so the tutorial prompts continued. There is no voice acting in the game, but the subtle background music is enough to keep you focused on the tasks at hand.
We start by building a basic cannabis farm and this requires a growing room, a storage room and a garage for a single moped delivery vehicle. We erect four plant stations, add lights which increases the quality of the yield, hire three workers and a guard, and learned to equip them. One worker had a pair of gloves that increases the yield, and the guard could equip a baseball bat. So far so good, we’re boxing up the cannabis and then are introduced to monuments. Purchasing monuments in the city give you certain bonuses, and purchasing the Hotline Monument allows customers to place orders with you.
We are immediately contacted by three people who want two loads of cannabis each. We had enough cannabis built up in the storeroom and so the moped driver got on his bike and loaded up one box, then set off to the first location. The detail of the city is well laid out and illustrated with older 80’s style vehicles driving around, and at nighttime the lighting has a really cool effect. Along the streets we see a heap of strip malls with donut shops, laundromats and other such businesses. After clicking to supply all three customers, it was at this point that the tutorial finishes, and you are left to fend for yourself.
It is pointed out that there is a criminal education programme that lists some tasks for you to complete a bit of a progression guide. A parting message from the attorney said that your staff will literally live and die for you, and that we should keep an eye out for that Major fella who might not be happy with our business. I didn’t pay much mind to these comments, but I wish I had. While waiting for my deliveries to be completed by my one moped driver, I started the first task which was to set up a laundromat.
It took me a fair bit of time looking through all of the menu items trying to figure out how to set up the laundromat. Eventually I worked it out, but I think it would be beneficial for the tutorial, or at least the criminal education programme to provide a little more help to get this first business started. I started to create rooms in the laundromat and outfit them when all of a sudden, the Major noticed that I had started to sell cannabis, and that he was going to send his boys over to ‘cluck us up.’
That got a good chuckle out of me, but then I watched in horror as three guys in chicken suits pulled out rifles and killed all my workers at the cannabis farm! I hired new employees, but the ruffians had also half destroyed my equipment too. I put my focus back on trying to get the laundromat built and I noticed my funds were getting low. I checked the map to see how my one moped driver was going and he had only fulfilled one of the first three orders, and in this time I had accepted a few more jobs that came in over the radio. It was going to take forever to fulfil these orders, and even when I added a second garage/moped, I still went bankrupt and had to start again.
I was wiser with my second game of Definitely Not Fried Chicken but losing your first set of employees seems to be inevitable and part of the gameplay loop. I looked through the menu items and locations to see if I could find a more efficient delivery method, and while I could work towards getting a car that had four box slots, it was still going to be quite a cumbersome early game. I would need to get deliveries directly to the scrapyard in order to earn upgrade points to unlock the car. I tried building more moped garages and focusing them on single deliveries, and close in proximity to my business making it more economical. This worked to a point, but it was still slow going with the single-box mopeds.
No doubt my strategy will change as I play and learn more. As Definitely Not Fried Chicken is in early access, there are a heap of building contents and business types that are marked as ‘EA’ and unavailable to you. This is all good as there’s enough to keep you going while you learn to play the game. While it took me a few restarts to understand how to get off to a decent start, there is good potential for the game as more features are enabled.
If you’re looking to get into the game, I would suggest waiting for some kinks to be ironed out and more options made available to expand your gameplay options. There are definitely similarities here to games like Cartel Tycoon and Weedcraft Inc, but Definitely Not Fried Chicken leans more on the parody side with the puns and similarities to real world restaurants. I enjoyed my time in the game though it was a steep learning curve. If the instructions were extended a little more to cover your first legitimate business, I think that could help people persist with their learnings. I am looking forward to seeing what is added over the early access period.
This review utilised a key provided by Hooligan PR and Definitely Not Fried Chicken is out now on Steam Early Access.