I could never be a bartender. I had friends in college consider the job (of course), but it’s never interested me. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of mixed drinks, I don’t have the sociable personality for it, and according to this game, I don’t work well under pressure. You, however, may think you can sling drinks better than Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Should you want to test your own abilities, here’s a pretty niche title that remains the best (and only?) serious bartending sim some 20 years later.
Last Call (“Happy Hour” in the U.K.) is a turn of the century multimedia simulation of helming a busy bar during the late night rush. Up to three customers at a time sidle up and perch on a stool. You’ll need to check IDs, get drink orders, then pour ingredients out of a mildly terrifying selection of choices along the bottom of the screen. Getting tips is the goal here, which act as your high score. Fast service, accurate mixes, and maybe some flirting or a comp ticket or two all stand to boost your tips from each customer. Treating a repeat customer right pushes their tips higher. As the game progresses through a dozen or so levels, people get impatient faster, drinks get more complicated, and the pressure becomes crushing. Can you take the heat, or are you destined to remain on the other side of the bar?
Aside from a few bonus minigames, the only game mode is a linear campaign of increasingly difficult levels. The game calls these “shifts,” but your total tips never reset and the way customers announce their return makes it seem like this is all one long night. Your shift begins listing the time you’ll have (20 real-time minutes or less) and a minimum tip level you must hit to complete the level. If you hit a target tip amount (around twice the minimum) you’ll automatically advance early. There’s no way to customize these limits, which is a little disappointing. It would have been nice to set up your own challenges once you were familiar with the game and looking to sim specific scenarios.
To the untrained eye (mine), the setup behind the bar looks like an airplane cockpit. There are many, many options and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. However, there is some organization to the chaos. Liquor bottles are all on the left, mixes are on the right, garnishes in the center above the ice. This at least gives you consistent areas to search, and a pop up title will appear over any bottle or ingredient you mouse over. There are no official brands here, but resolution is good enough to make out the generic “Whiskey” and “Scotch” labels on the CG bottles.
A small red dot indicates which position at the bar you’re focused on (left, center, right). The game is generally smart about shifting focus to the customer that just arrived and off the one you just served, but clicking on the customer or using the 1-3 keys will both target that section. With the exception of mixers or shakers, you’re preparing the drinks in front of the customers. This setup lets you drop a glass in front of each of them and pour directly, so matching drink to order is even less confusing.
When a customer first arrives, you must check their ID with a button on the menu along the bottom. Serving an underage customer immediately ends the game. A full-screen view of the ID pops up, and in a neat bit of programming, the birthdates are calculated off your current system date. I was expecting to have to backdate from the game’s release, but nope, just subtract 21 from the current year. As of this posting, that’s 1999. The game itself is one year away from being able to drink at its own bar.
Age confirmed, click “Take Order” and the customer will announce their drink in a voiced audio clip. You will most likely want to consult the recipe book. Like Emergency Room‘s CME kiosk, the book will give you the exact glass, ingredients, amounts, and instructions to get a perfect score. In the game’s “High Res” mode, the action is still displayed in a 800×600 centered window, but you’re allowed to drag the recipe book outside the window (up to your desktop resolution) to keep it open and out of the way. This is a godsend when you’re starting out. You will get a tip bonus for making a drink with the book closed, but that’s best left to the experts.
There are five glasses ranging from shot to Collins, and you’ll need to click one from behind the bar and click again in front of the customer to set it down. Similar “click to grab” mechanics are used for the bottles. As you hover a carried bottle over a glass, it tilts slightly to indicate it can be poured. Hold down the mouse button to upend it. A meter appears in the upper right indicating the total volume of the glass and the exact ounces of drink poured to two decimal places. You want to release the mouse button as close to exact as possible, or use little additional clicks to top off. From what I can tell, accuracy is the key. You don’t seem to get extra tips for sneaking a customer some extra booze. You can also never overfill a glass, but can easily go past the intended amount for that ingredient. The remainder is left for the other ingredients, the ratio will be off, and your customer will probably be grumpy.
A list of what’s in the glass appears next to the pour meter once one ingredient is in. From here, you can reference additional mixers, other alcohols, etc that you’ve added. By the end of the process, these amounts will ideally match the ones in the recipe book. Stir or add garnishes as the recipe calls for, then click a button to the right of your tip score to serve the drink. They’ll tip (or not) and vacate the spot for the next. If you totally biff it somewhere in the process, you can click another button to empty the glass and start over. Best I can tell, there’s no penalty for doing this beyond wasting the customer’s time.
Blended drinks call for either the shaker or the mixer located in the center. In these cases, you’re pouring ingredients directly into these containers, activating either device, and then pouring the contents into the glass to automatically strain. You simply click the mixer to turn it on, but you’ll have to pick up the shaker and shake the mouse around. I love that the instruction manual has to put “THIS IS NOT A JOKE” next to that line. You also have a mixing spoon to stir glasses, if called for.
Finally, there are the special cases. There are eight additional liquors that only get used in one or two recipes. For these, pressing X or left click and holding on any bottle gives you a list of these special bottles to select from. It disappears and goes back to normal once you pour. Similarly, the soda gun has seven different options. You can hit the J key to bring up a window of buttons to click, or use hotkeys to auto-select an option. The recipe book generously highlights if the special bottles or the soda gun is used for that ingredient, and there’s even an option to give a Windows alert if it’s the first time in that shift that you’ll need one of these rare ingredients.
It’s pretty straightforward beyond that. Sling drinks, get tips. The Flirt button almost always gets a good response the first time it’s used, regardless of gender. It usually doesn’t go over well on the second use or beyond and it won’t cheer up an annoyed customer. You get a limited number of comp tickets per shift. Handing over one of those will smooth over any long wait times. If customers wait too long, (this time getting shorter as the levels progress) they will simply walk away in the middle of having their drink made. Denying you a tip and wasting your time is especially teeth-gritting. Customers return to the bar as the night progresses, but I’ve never had one that didn’t order through the normal process or expect you to know “their favorite.” The only time repeats seem to matter is a tip penalty if you check their ID twice.
Customers are best described as “generically weird.” Apparently some local comedians were brought in to brainstorm designs and it’s definitely a lot of 90’s stereotypical caricatures. There’s the New York lady, the smooth talking business guy, a dominatrix, a UFO conspiracy nut, a 70s blaxploitation guy, and so on. All of these characters are voiced well. Their intro and exit lines are repeated and never change, but idle chatter at the bar is randomized and amusing. If you’re personally not amused, there’s no option to disable speech, but their schtick is at least easily ignored. “Wacky customers” is wisely not presented as the highlight of the game and they don’t get in the way of your work. Stick around though, because they get better and stranger as the shifts go on – my favorites being Vincent the hedgehog (who laps booze from his glass) and a visit from Bacchus, God of Wine, Revelry, and “some other things.”
Shenanigans are possible, but limited. Serving an underage customer is the only thing that ends your shift early. You can abuse customers endlessly, even freely calling the bouncer over for a custom animation kicking each one out. I’ve bounced customers simply for making a difficult drink order. Not getting enough tips is your only penalty. Customers will also obediently gulp down anything you put in that glass. You can snicker to yourself as you serve them a glass of pure bitters or saltwater, but they just give generic complaints that the drink tastes bad. Filling a Collins glass with mixed liquors pretty reliably gets anyone to barf and pass out – again, a custom animation for each character – but this also just gets no tips and a toothless audio warning from the manager.
The manual claims there’s hundreds of easter eggs to find with drink combinations, but I don’t think I found a single one. Even its own suggestion of mixing milk and fruit didn’t do anything noticeable or trigger any rare dialogue. Maybe their definition of “easter egg” is more generous than mine. Point being, you probably shouldn’t go after this game for freeform mayhem. It’s focused on being a legitimate sim.
Finally worth noting are the minigames. There’s a practice mode where you click a recipe from the book to force your customer to order it. It’s the best the game’s got at letting you try specific drinks on your own and it generally works out. The “bonus round” appears between shifts or as an option on the main menu. Here you have a limit of a couple minutes while a rapid-fire stream of customers appear and order a single ingredient (using Windows’ creepy built-in speech synthesizer!) This is mostly useful to memorize ingredient locations. It’s not that great for learning them initially, but the quick, flash card like pace can help practice if you choose to take this seriously.
And that’s Last Call. There’s 16 total shifts to play through, with the ability to save your game between them. There’s a high score table to put your name on and/or challenge a friend. The whole show is programmed in Macromedia Director, so it works natively even in Windows 10 64-bit if you have DirectX installed. No issues with window sizing, audio, or visuals. Graphics strike a nice balance between cartoon and realistic, and trying to see all the characters’ reactions can be a fun little side game. I especially like how glasses fill realistically and blend colors as you mix ingredients – pretty cool touch.
Ultimately, how much you like Last Call will be up to how dedicated you are to the concept. This isn’t a goofy sim like Surgeon Simulator, full of broken bottles and shaky hands. There’s no keyboard modifiers to dramatically spin bottles and catch glasses. If you’re not specifically here to mix drinks, maybe discover a real recipe or two, and spend time actually practicing, you’re not going to get very far. This is probably why it didn’t do well on release – it’s more learning and work than the “Party Time!” marketing would suggest. The venue never changes and less than 20 total characters mean shifts get repetitive quickly. Skill thresholds also make this an arcade challenge that ends the game once you can’t keep up. Still, if you’re serious about it, it’s well made, well executed, and there’s still nothing like it today.
Legitimate bartending simulator, smartly made. Funny characters. 100 real-life drink recipes. The recipe book is easy to follow and makes this playable, while the ability to drag it to the side of the game window is fantastic. If you memorize these recipes, it might actually help you become a better bartender.
Super niche. Venue, characters, and the basic challenge never change and start to get repetitive. Arcade challenge that requires you to practice and build skill to make progress – many may not be willing to put in the time. Could use more options, like the ability to customize challenges.
“You know what a ‘Perfect Manhattan’ is? Her livin’ in Jersey!” – Jeff and Linda, fighting married couple.