I‘ve always wanted to try an escape room. As puzzling as it is for Singaporeans to pay a sizeable chunk of cash to get locked up, there’s no denying the fact that these real-life reality games were ‘trending’ wildly in 2014. Upon catching the movie “Escape Plan”, where Rocky and the Terminator guy attempt to break out of the most secure prison in the world, I decided that now would be the perfect time to embark on an escape room marathon.
For those who might not be aware of what escape rooms are, let me check my calendar real quick. Nope, I wasn’t wrong. It’s really 2015.
Anyway, escape rooms are a type of physical adventure game whereby a group of people are locked in a themed room, usually with a relevant storyline as a pretext for our captivity. They would be required to collaborate with each other and use the elements within the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues and subsequently find their way out before the time runs out. What started out as a basic solve-and-go game modelled after “escape the room” video games has quickly evolved into one that utilises state-of-the-art technology, with concentration and critical thinking holding more significance than ever before.
I grabbed five of my friends (Jing Yi, ODS, Khim, Shamemi, Kok Yin), and we commenced our little prison run at about 11 on a bright Saturday morning. The escape rooms we visited were located on a metaphorical straight line as shown on the map below. Starting off from Bugis, we made our way westwards and ended our job at Orchard around 10 hours later. There’ll be a more informative and interactive map at the end of the post if you guys are interested to go on the exact same run during your off day or something.
I was expecting the escape rooms to be vastly similar to each other since they all shockingly revolve around the concept of escaping. I left surprised because it was simply impossible to find clear points for comparison. All the five outlets offered different experiences and proving that one is better than the other would be a rather insurmountable task.
I’ll be listing down the unique points about each escape room, the room for improvements and my opinion on who the place is for. There wouldn’t be many pictures of the rooms itself as the brands do not want to ruin the experience for future players, and I, too, will try my best to minimise the spoilers for the same reason.
There’s enjoyment metrics as well for ya’ll to kinda gauge the experience the place offers. Fun, Difficulty, Scariness, Design, Detail, and Technology are pretty self-explanatory, while Pace denotes how smoothly the game runs. Storyline Relevancy basically reflects how well the room incorporates the plot/story that was given to us before the game. I strongly believe that a storyline should be encompassed seriously into a user’s gameplay, instead of it being a lazy pretext on how someone got stuck in the room.
Xcape is probably one of the most renowned providers of escape rooms in Singapore, being one of the trailblazing pioneers to kickstart a trend that would grow spectacularly in popularity over the years. We were welcomed into a lobby plastered with Xcape’s iconic neon green and black upon our arrival, and proceeded for a briefing after storing our bags in the lockers.
Game Played: Vampire Diaries (Season 2)
The first thing that surprised me was how everything happens in a single room. I was expecting to pass through several different places during our escape, but we ended up spending an hour trying to put together clues to escape from a solitary room. It would ‘grow bigger’ as more hints are discovered (or given, in our case), something which I initially thought would be an easy task.
The way the room was designed deserves special mention because there was an element that, while everyone thought would only be possible in movies, turned out to be the key to progressing in the game.
There was also a roleplaying element involved which, besides being sparingly incorporated into the main gameplay, would deliver a rude and dramatic shock if you make it to the latter stages of the game.
Let me tell you this though; if you do make it that far within the time limit, this particular event will make your money’s worth in just 30 seconds. However, as noted below, it’s going to take some doing to reach that stage of the game.
I didn’t notice anything significantly bad at Xcape, but that doesn’t mean there were no room for improvement. The room was so hard that it was terribly painful for me to immerse myself in the game while trying to observe the dynamics of the place. It was taxing to focus on two things at once, so I stuck with trying to find and solve the puzzles with varying degrees of success. It came to a point whereby I wasn’t even going like “Ohhhh” when they revealed the solutions because they were something that was so dumbfounding I couldn’t have possibly thought of them even if I tried.
Xcape was also billed as having more high-tech gears compared to the rest of its peers, and while that holds true to a certain extent, it was disappointing to not be able to interact more with lasers, sensors or other mechanisms. Based on the feedback from others, Season 1+, the older set of games were pretty ‘advanced’ in terms of technology, so it was quite a surprise when we hardly got exposed to any fancy contraptions in Season 2.
We were also stuck in an endless cycle of figuring out codes for the locks and solving a huge array of puzzles to advance the game, which proved to be demoralising and tiresome over time, especially when everything hits a dead end.
None of these could be entirely blamed on the R&D team though as our inability to work and process as acutely as Patrick Jane played a huge factor in lowering the enjoyability of the game. Others will definitely enjoy the riddles and obstacles presented in the experience, but it was a li’ll too much, too hard for us to handle.
Who is it meant for?
I would like to think that Xcape would be better suited for people who are total newbies, or seasoned veterans. The exhausting experience served as a good introduction to the awe-inspiring world of escape rooms, enabling us to know where to look for clues and how to solve them for the rest of our trip. It would be a fun challenge for experienced pros to take up as the whole journey will require smarts from a sharp mind and a great deal of concentration. It’s not too shabby for the casual escape room fan (as in like a person) though if you like the idea of linking clues together and working within a single room (which is pretty unique to be honest), but if you’re anticipating deltas of rooms to explore and escape from, be prepared to be disappointed.
I would suggest going in a large group, despite Xcape recommending just 4-8 persons. It’ll be damn near impossible for four, or even six people to break out on their first try. I’m not sure about the other rooms, although their difficulty ratings suggest that it won’t be as baffling as Vampire Diary.
Fun – 6
Difficulty – 9
Scariness – 0 (N/A)
Pace – 5
Design – 8
Detail – 7
Technology – 5
Storyline Relevancy – 5
Did we succeed? Not even close.
Special Thanks: Freya Zhao
$22 – $28 / person
Monday to Sunday: 1100 – 2330
Bugis Village, 160A (Season 2), 158B (Season 1+)
Rochor Road S188435
Tel: 6337 4905 (Season 2), 63384451 (Season 1+)
For more details, visit http://www.xcape.sg.
Unravel is the latest player in the escape room scene, and my oh my did they make an impression. They were recommended to me by Lost.sg, another escape room I’m going to cover later on.
Perhaps helped by a severe drop of expectation due to it’s newly-opened status, the huge, sprawling ‘arena’ coupled with friendly staff and a mighty detailed explanation of the game’s dynamics contributed to our overwhelmingly positive experience, which I’ll elaborate more as we move along.
Game played: The Haunting
Perhaps what set Unravel widely apart from the rest is the fact that its concept revolves around local urban legends and iconic landmarks, which is something other escape rooms overlook in favor of more cliché themes based off overseas franchises and cultures. For example, The Betrayal, is based on rumours of underground tunnels that link Fort Siloso to Fort Pasir Panjang for the British army to protect Singapore against enemies, while The Wish is inspired by the Old Ford Factory, notoriously known as the place where the British surrendered to the Japanese during WWII.
The front of the store features a long, impressive and, as they say, “awesome” mural featuring iconic Singapore landmarks, some which have been demolished. Ian, one of the staff members, explained that the elements from the 70s were painted in black and white, 80s in a sepia pink tone and full colour from the 90s onwards. For versus games, mechanisms were in place to allow teams to slow each other down in their conquest to be the first to escape.
The Haunting, which we went for, is tantalisingly based on the old Changi Hospital. Kai, Unravel’s resident detective, claimed that it was “fun and experimental”, and in the next 120 minutes, we proved that that was a severe understatement.
What first struck me most was how intricate and detailed the whole place was. It was mind-numbing and jaw-dropping to see how smartly the rooms were set up and played with our emotions, with most items serving a well-derived purpose, be it to deliver scares or to provide actual clues while maintaining the realism of the theme. There were tunnels, narrow corridors shrouded in cold, abysmal darkness, and props that served their functions well.
Again, there were some mechanisms that we thought would only exist in movies being implemented into the gameplay, and these really added to the suspense as we’re constantly being kept on our toes, the unpredictability further hampering our ability to think rationally. The feverish need to switch between normal torchlights and UV lights also proved to be a challenge as there was no straightforward way to find any clues.
There were walkie talkies provided to us as well, instead of a direct telecom option utilised by the other escape rooms, along with a briefcase which, apparently, is something “no self-respecting detective will be without”, that contains a wide range of tools.
For the first time in my life as well I saw directional locks, which are locks that require users to shift a large movable plate in certain directions before the lock successfully opens. Along with the briefcase and subtle gestures that added to the experience, the ‘support cast’ and complementing items were brilliant.
To pay testament to how scary the place was, one member of our group dropped out within 15 minutes, and another cried within 20 before leaving. It is not cool being trapped in a place that reeks of creepiness and unhealthy vibes, more so when we’re required to interact, intimately even, with certain elements in the room. Even I was genuinely scared despite laughing at the other two for chickening out.
There’s no other words to put this. I can’t reveal the scare areas because it’ll spoil the experience, but you’ll scream. You’ll definitely scream, while the staff, who are monitoring your actions outside via CCTV are busy laughing. The place looks like and feels like an old hospital, and it’s a wonder how the cafe opposite, or any other shops in the level for that matter, not lodge complaints against the place for disrupting the serenity of the otherwise quiet mall.
As stupefyingly sensational this place was, it did contain some ‘cons’3, which ruined the experience a little bit.
Firstly, there were still pencil marks visible around the area where the words warning of our impending doom were painted on. That looked amateurish, and it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, but to their credit, everything after that lacked in cosmetic laziness.
Secondly, the circuits were not functioning well, resulting in a temporary delay as the completed puzzle refuses to work and lead us to our next clue. At that point in time, it was peculiar because it suddenly felt like we weren’t part of the game anymore. The in-game realism was gone as the staff needed to come in to fix something that, for once, didn’t originate from our questionable ability to escape.
Thirdly, Jing Yi managed to accidentally pull down a rope that was supporting a crucial part of an element. The fault was in our stars, but the rope could have been more secured, especially when the theme of horror was in play. I wasn’t looking when the incident happened, but when a 5 ft. 3 in. girl manages to dislodge a rope with substantial weight and thickness, I think more can be done, both to protect the players and to save the staff trouble.
Lastly, while the amount of puzzles were just right, they got really groggy towards the end. The pacing got severely affected as Unravel strangely abandoned their repertoire of tricks that made and defined the main part of the game, instead opting for a mostly conventional puzzle system that made the game end on a slight, wearisome whimper.
Who Is It Meant For?
Unravel is for anyone who wants an experience that draws the line excellently between a haunted house and an escape room. It is the real McCoy, and I’m excited to see how the company progresses in 2015. The potential is boundless, and I can only imagine them getting better and improving the year goes by.
To fully experience the game, I would suggest going in fours. Six is a little bit too much, and it can get quite frustrating when you want to proceed but the ones who are afraid can’t stop screaming or being utterly petrified.
For couples, this could turn out to be quite a romantic experience.
To put it briefly, it’s like Halloween Horror Night without the queue.
With that being said, if you’re easily scared, don’t bother. There’s really no value in going in and ‘escaping’ after 10 or 20 minutes due to your fear. The other rooms should be fine, but expect the same amount of physical activity, if not more. I do hope to go back one day to try out the remaining themes, and see if Unravel can continue impressing against the big boys.
Fun – 8.5
Difficulty – 7
Scariness – 9
Pace – 7.5
Design – 8.5
Detail – 9
Technology – 7.5
Storyline Relevancy – 7.5
Did we succeed? We did, but not within the allocated 60 minutes. The staff gave us two extensions to complete the game, and we busted through the doors to freedom only after about 90 minutes.
Special Thanks: Kai
Great Customer Service Mention: Kristal, Daniel, Ian
$22 – $28 / person
Monday to Thursday: 1200-2300
Friday & Saturday: 1200-0100
Sunday: 1200 – 2300
Bugis CUBE, 470 North Bridge Road
Tel: 6802 2514
For more details, visit http://unravel.sg.
As mentioned above, Lost.sg referred me to Unravel, which I thought was something very noble because businesses rarely help their competitors nowadays. In fact, I was quite surprised the five businesses agreed to be on a list of escape rooms. Maybe there’ll be collaborations or even continued storylines in the future, who knows?
Following an intense session at Unravel, we proceeded down the street to Peace Center and Lost.sg, the next in our line of prisons to break out from. The four-month-old Singapore outlet originated from Hong Kong, where escape rooms were springing up as early as 2006. The increasing popularity of the games resulted in an evolution to the second generation of entertainment, as rudimentary pick-and-lock systems made way for newer and more sophisticated mechanisms. The brand has since advanced outside the Pearl of the Orient into places like China and even North America.
Game Played: Exodus
Wow, you probably won’t find another escape room in Singapore which can boast an even wider range of the newest and latest technologies to be implemented in escape rooms. The mechanisms on show here will leave your jaw hanging. From musical instruments that are played via lasers (like are you kidding me), human circuits and sliding almost-everything, this is as sophisticated as a panic room can get. Even if you’re not a fan of escape rooms, you’ll be forgiven for wondering how this place was put together. The gizmos are proudly flaunted at nearly every corner and turn, and utilising them is something that even people in the movies wouldn’t even get to try.
Also, for once, here is an escape room that doesn’t focus on locks. In fact, I can only remember just one lock being present in our entire journey. You have no idea how relieving this was as it really allows you to fully enjoy what Lost.sg is providing instead of dwindling with digit combinations that can really insinuate a lack of creativity sometimes. It also gives players the opportunity to really be part of the game and marvel at the doodah on display.
It is worth noting that the individual rooms were huge compared to the others. They’re full-fledged sections instead of smaller, more isolated areas which are a common occurrence in the other escape games. A large group would serve players well as the clues are scattered all around the room, which allows everyone a chance to feel like part of the team as they go about investigating their own findings and conundrums.
I think the use of technology is a double-edged sword for Lost.sg. While it really delivers a darn good experience, all the more impressive considering this was incorporated relevantly into a storyline that dealt with gods, it might proved to be a little too overwhelming for first time players. When you try to escape from a room, would the first solution to pop into your head be playing an instrument with laser beams or forming human circuits to unlock clues?
The placement of certain items had to be inch-perfect, as we had an issue with certain mechanisms despite solving the clue correctly. Staff had to be called in to fix the problem as a result. I also harbor doubts as to whether anyone can complete this within an hour on their first try. It is really extensive, and there are also your traditional puzzles to contend with.
A large group might serve you well in this case, but don’t get into each other’s way and follow each line of reasoning independently.
Who Is It Meant For?
Lost.sg should definitely be the first choice for those who wants to experience the next generation of escape games. The technology on show here, as mentioned above, is precedented by none, and the nature of the game strikes a nice balance with the difficulty and the storyline relevancy. Teamwork will turn out to be mighty crucial, and with that being said I recommend a large group of roughly 7-9 people. I can’t foresee anyone breaking out on their first try with just three or four teammates, although it might be a different story for the other rooms.
Fun – 7
Difficulty – 8
Scariness – 0 (N/A)
Pace – 6
Design – 8
Detail – 8
Technology – 9.5
Storyline Relevancy – 9
Did we succeed? No.
Special Thanks: Ivan Loo
Great Customer Service Mention: Ivan Loo
$20.90 – $26.90 / person
Sunday to Thursday: 1100-2300
Friday & Saturday: 1100-0100
1 Sophia Road, #03-31/02/03
Tel: 6717 1688
For more details, visit http://lost.sg.
The weather reared its ugly side as we trudged down to Escape Hunt, located in Concorde Hotel and Shopping Center. The brand, which started in Bangkok barely half a year ago, will be expanding to 26 countries by May 2015, and it’s not that hard to see why.
Game Played: Bomb in the Cellar
Escape Hunt was the only room in our journey that felt like we were in a computer game. The game was held in a 3v3 format, and each room only held a maximum of six players, a stark contrast to others where double-digit capacity are a common occurrence. The rooms wasn’t trying too hard to create an impression, the homely concoction of beautiful fictional interior design and a small size group producing a more intimate and quicker-paced experience.
Instead of a rotating staff helping us out when we needed hints, the game masters are ‘dedicated’, meaning each group would have their own, specific go-to person during the game itself.
What I really like about the gameplay was the fact that there are different lines of enquiry to go on simultaneously, meaning everyone would be under stress and having their hands full for most parts of the game, again, a sharp variance from the other escape rooms. There would be a few possible clues leading to the subsequent breakthrough, meaning that a failure to decipher a code or a puzzle for example won’t signal the end of the world, as you’re still able to proceed with another hint.
The area is relatively small, and the puzzles were straightforward, not particularly hidden from view or anything. While this formula might not work in other escape rooms, it did progress the game more realistically as we spent more time putting the pieces together instead of looking aimlessly for well-hidden props.
And because I was so invested in the game instead of sitting around and looking at others solving puzzles, I genuinely felt hopeless and stressed out when something didn’t work as planned. Neither did the dwindling clock, nor the element of competition between the other group helped our cause greatly. In short, it was the only escape room which I legitimately felt the need and desire to escape before the bomb supposedly goes off.
Moving past the gameplay, the lobby, or the waiting area, was really grand. The interior design was superb, though it was a little dark (I had to crank up my ISO till the maximum in order take an, at-most, decently exposed photo). The entire working staff were females due to the attire they had to don during the job (skirts/kilts), which seemed strangely odd at first. We were presented with a huge array of tea and Marks and Spencers jelly biscuits after the game as the results were being calculated. We got dressed up in period costumes for photos while posing with props; a nice touch to end the whole vintage experience that was remarkably enjoyable.
The penalty should you require a hint would be an addition of one-minute to your final escape timing, which was definitely not severe enough. Solving something successfully usually requires an upwards of five to ten minutes, which meant that it was faster to ask for a clue than to actually attempt to solve the obstacle presented in front of you. The other group ended up with a time of about 57 minutes, after using three hints, but we lost after completing the escape without any help in 59 minutes and 20 seconds. Technically, we were so much faster than the other group, yet we lost plainly on paper. While the penalty is a good thought, it is more of an incentive right now than a deterrent, which might ruin the experience for some customers as it’s human nature to constantly look for the easiest and quickest way out of things.
Five minutes would be perfect.
That’s all to it for Escape Hunt really in my opinion. It’s a well thought-out and designed game with the props (a legit sewing machine and typewriter among other things, damn) complementing the story and gameplay well. The fictional world that Escape Hunt is building upon conceivably removes the need for super-realistic structures or fancy mechanisms, but the existing design had nonetheless successfully enhanced the journey.
Who is it for?
Bomb in the Cellar, the game we attempted, was apparently the hardest room at Escape Hunt. I’ll recommend Escape Hunt to the youths and teenagers, as I expect the other two rooms to be easier. It’s also a great place for those who want to experience a retro, Sherlock Holmes type of vibe, a nice break from the contemporary and high-tech options the other escape rooms are offering. You’ll get to enjoy yourself in a wonderful setting, and get your sense of accomplishment as well.
Fun – 8
Difficulty – 7.5
Scariness – 0 (N/A)
Pace – 7.5
Design – 7
Detail – 8
Technology – 3 (N/A in my opinion)
Storyline Relevancy – 9
Did we succeed? Yes. And we did it within the 60-minute limit.
Special Thanks: Ben and Sabrina
Great Customer Service Mention: Natalie, Carolyn, Huijing
$28 – $38 / person
Monday to Sunday: 1000-2200
100 Orchard Road, Concorde Hotel and Shopping Mall
Tel: 6100 0828
For more details, visit http://singapore.escapehunt.com.
To cap off a wonderful day, we headed towards Roomraider, the only escape room on our list that existed in a stereotypically ‘proper’ shopping mall as the evening rain fiercely lashes down on us.
Game Played: Prison Break
Again, we were split into two groups, but we were both on the same team this time round. It was pretty interesting to collaborate from different ‘cells’ before meeting to continue the rest of the escape. One team was thrown into a room filled with various items while mine was entrusted into complete darkness as we spent the first few minutes blindly touching each other, literally. The tools the other team needed to break out of their cell were in ours, and vice versa, so communication played quite a huge bit during the first part of the game.
Another unique point about Roomraider was that we took on more of a spy role than one of a detective. The tools we used were real life devices used by actual intelligence officers worldwide, albeit a li’ll less powerful than theirs. We didn’t need to solve any math problems, which made the game more realistic because it really doesn’t make sense for someone to solve arithmetic problems when they’re escaping. How ridiculous would it be if James Bond had to figure out the surface area of Saturn with an abacus before he could barge out an exploding building?
The pacing of the game was just right, as we were able to move to each stage in about the same duration as the previous. The straightforward sequences meant that we needed to keep active instead of feeling stuck and demoralised in a certain stage of the game. That was especially important as the team was really enervated from solving puzzles. From hacking into a radio’s frequency and monitoring rooms via a watch, to crawling in tunnels and watching television with a twist, it is perhaps the most realistic escape room amongst the rest as these are things that people actually do in real life, not just in movies or video games.
The rooms weren’t intricately designed, with roofs not covered and the glass panes not shielded, which takes the realism down a notch as you can happily see shoppers going about their business in the mall. It felt a bit like escaping from your typical cubicle office setting.
However, that might not be a bad thing depending on preference. It is quite apparent that Roomraider focuses more on their gadgets and contraptions, and the plainly decorated rooms allowed us to really focus on the game instead of having to deal with the environment or to look for clues on the walls and such. I personally felt that the ‘office’ vibe was pretty cool. It is really hard to put it in words, but it was a different experience altogether compared to the other four.
The storyline weren’t really a huge part of the game till the latter stages, so it can feel really one-dimensional as it seems as though you’re just merely solving one puzzle after the next for the sake of it. To their credit, they did manage to tie up the story in unbelievable fashion at the end though, and for us to come all the way after cracking clues and smartly utilising our spy wear, it was embarrassing that we didn’t realise how easy it was to escape even though we had already solved the final clue and got what we needed in our very hands.
Who Is It Meant For?
The place itself, I think, was set up decently, and if a straightforward, distraction-free environment is not something you mind, Roomraider is the one for you, blending a mixture of traditional set-ups and real-life spy tools into a thrilling brew of no-nonsense, uncomplicated fun. I would recommend going in with three or four people. The rooms aren’t really that big, and you have to be on the move constantly, rendering a large entourage useless, more burdensome even. The obstacles weren’t hard to overcome as it was more of figuring out how to piece the clues together and subsequently using the technology provided.
Fun – 7
Difficulty – 7.5
Scariness – 0 (N/A)
Pace – 8
Design – 5
Detail – 7
Technology – 8
Storyline Relevancy – 7
Did we succeed? No.
Special Thanks: Adrian Chan
Great Customer Service Mention: Iqbal
$22 – $28 / person
Monday to Sunday: 1130-2230
Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road
Tel: 6636 8470
For more details, visit http://roomraidersg.com.
So that about concludes our miserable quest and our dreams of being professional escape artists. The escape room scene in Singapore is getting more and more exciting, and I can only imagine what new additions 2015 will bring about to this ever-changing landscape. While it is apparent that all five outlets have their own distinct selling point …
1. In every escape room, we stumbled upon situations whereby a clue that we’re supposed to solve only after a certain stage was solved first, and it really messed up the flow and dynamics of the game as we got stuck multiple times trying to figure out if we did something wrong. If the gameplay was designed to be more cohesive and that clues that are meant to be solved first, got solved first, or at least in a decently logical order, that would be excellent.
2. 60 minutes is a little too short in my opinion. Most of the escape rooms can’t boast a reasonably high success rate, and it isn’t hard to see why. An hour goes by quickly, so a 90-minute option should be something the businesses consider. It’s understandable to go by the hour since it maximises profit (the rent in Singapore is just too damn high), but if there are users that are willing to pay for a longer experience, then I would like to think that it is a win-win situation for all the parties involved.
3. The price point is a little too steep for most Singaporeans, especially the younger generation. The average pricing of $22 is pretty substantial for the normal Singaporean joe. Maybe a 15% discount, or even a 20% discount for groups of 8 and above could be something that entices more people, especially teenagers, to come and try out the games.
I hope you guys enjoyed this piece, and I’m looking forward to doing a part two or even part three should the opportunity arises. Escape rooms are undoubtedly a cool alternative to your usual East Coast Parks, and I strongly urge you guys to jump on the bandwagon and visit the places. I enjoyed myself immensely throughout the journey, and I’m sure with the right company (and the right weather), you guys would too!
If you’re planning to embark upon the same marathon I underwent, here’s a map with the details of all the places and their surrounding roads:
Have you tried any of the escape rooms I listed above? What was your experience like with them? Do you have any escape rooms you would like to recommend as well? Share them with me in the comments section below!
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