Encounter

Room review: Encounter: The Cruise

Their description: You are having vacation on a cruise. You felt a strong vibration followed by an emergency announcement. You rushed to the upper deck trying to find out more and entered a first class cabin which was left open to explore.

Will you be able to make it out before the cruise sink?


The Cruise takes Encounter’s usual strengths of atmosphere and setting, and applies them to a theme that’s markedly different from their other offerings. This makes for an experience that’s up to their high standards of immersion, yet very refreshing. As a bonus, this is also Encounter’s only 100% non-creepy room.

The use of ambient noise for the setting is great, but what really reinforces the immersion is how most of the puzzles are incorporated seamlessly into the premise and narrative. There are also some great hands-on moments that aren’t just simple matters of executing tasks. And as the room proceeds, there’s a great sense of adventure.

The only real weak point is the very last puzzle, which comes as a bit of an anticlimax after everything else. There’s also a puzzle midway through which requires a tiny leap of faith in the correctness of one’s answer, something I’m not usually fond of (I like solutions which you can be really certain of, once you arrive at them). But I’d say the rest of the room experience more than makes up for it.

I also have to commend Encounter for their dedication to not breaking character, which made for a great moment in this room, haha. Board The Cruise, and your team might realise what I mean. RECOMMENDED as an overall high-quality, fun experience. Unfortunately, this is not a room for players with mobility issues.

Puzzle difficulty: 3.5/5
Puzzle logic: 4/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 4/5

Atmosphere and setting: 5/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 4/5
Storyline integration: 4.5/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 8
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5

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Overall review: Encounter

My opinion of Encounter is irrevocably shaped by The Apartment, which I still consider the only definite must-play room in Singapore. The Apartment has been around since 2014, yet there’s still no other room here which comes close in its atmosphere, immersion, and dedication to storyline.

But for a long time, it was also Encounter’s only room, which is why I didn’t write an overall review for the company. Now that Encounter has expanded to its second location — and I’ve played all of its rooms — I can make a more general assessment.

Which is: no other rooms live up to The Apartment, but then again, it wouldn’t be fair to expect them to do so.

Taken on their own merits, Encounter’s rooms are still solid experiences, with the attention to setting and storyline making up for the occasional weak puzzle. The rooms are among the priciest here, at $33 per person for a group of five to eight, and $38 per person for smaller groups. But you’re paying for much higher production values. In many other rooms, the use of technology is exciting but also crudely obvious — think blinking lights in an ye-olde setting, or clunky moving parts. Encounter’s rooms feel a lot more seamless, making for a more immersive experience.

Incidentally, if I use the word ‘experience’ a lot when writing about Encounter, that’s because it’s really the best description of their rooms: not mere collections of puzzles to be solved, but stories and settings in which you’re a player.

What about the puzzles, though? They’re certainly not bad — most of them are fair and rigorous, and there are usually a few exciting, clever, or particularly well-integrated puzzles in each room. But you shouldn’t go to Encounter’s rooms in search of purely intellectual challenges. Instead, accept each room on its own terms and let yourself be immersed, and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

It’s HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you play The Apartment. After that, step back, regard Encounter with fresh eyes — and then try some of their other rooms. As a company in general, they’re still very much RECOMMENDED. Beginners won’t find the puzzles too tough, and veteran teams should find their style different and refreshing.

Staff: Friendly and genuinely interested. Uniquely in Singapore, they never once break character.

Hints: Unlimited hints, and with the least immersion-breaking hint system in Singapore: pick up the nearest phone, and dial. Staff are very good about not giving things away too easily.

Will your group be combined with strangers? No.

Rooms tried: 4 out of 4

Recommended team size: 3 to 5


Specific room reviews

The Apartment
The Hospital
The Cruise
The Boutique


Encounter
http://encounter.sg/

Room review: Encounter: The Boutique

Their description: A murder has just occurred in a boutique involving the sales representative, Miss Rochelle. The forensic team arrived earlier to mark out the crucial evidence. As police inspectors you will be the next team to arrive at the scene.

Will you be able to solve this murder case? Or was it even a murder in the first place?


Encounter’s consistent strength, across its rooms, is in achieving a realistic setting. In that aspect, at least, The Boutique delivers. In a less well-designed room, a low signal to noise ratio might be frustrating; in The Boutique, the extraneous information simply feels like a natural part of, well, being in a boutique. Nor does it get in the way of puzzle-solving. Like Encounter’s other rooms, you aren’t meant to blindly search for things. Rather, by observing the setting, you realise what you need to zero in on.

All this makes the start of The Boutique fairly satisfying, though teams might feel a little lost at first since the puzzles aren’t obvious.

But then there are some weaknesses. An early puzzle is disappointingly tedious; a mid-stage one has enough ambiguity that you can know exactly what to do yet fail in the execution, which is always a frustrating place to be in. If you’ve done Encounter’s other rooms, certain parts of this room (not the puzzles, to be fair) might also feel a little familiar.

That’s not to say that it was a bad room. The puzzles don’t require unfair leaps of logic, there’s a nice undercurrent of suspense (tamer than The Apartment and The Hospital, if you’re wondering), and Encounter continues to pay scrupulous attention to the storyline. You’ll find some answer to the mystery, if you make it to the end…

In all, the room is WORTH A TRY, though not one of Encounter’s stronger offerings.

Puzzle difficulty: 3/5
Puzzle logic: 3.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

Atmosphere and setting: 4/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 3/5
Storyline integration: 3.5/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 8
My suggested number of players: 3 to 4

Room review: Encounter: The Hospital

Their description: What happened to Mrs Fong and her daughters? What will be revealed in The Hospital?

(Sequel to The Apartment)


Encounter’s first room, The Apartment, was always going to be a tough act to follow. Ever since its launch back in 2014, it’s remained miles ahead of the local competition in providing a thoroughly engaging and immersive time. Even if its puzzles weren’t necessarily mindblowing, the sheer experience certainly was; there’s a reason that Encounter describes itself as providing an “interactive real-life suspense game with the element of an escape game”.

That first paragraph of set-up is necessary to explain why, upon finding out that The Hospital is closer to a standard escape room experience, my team was somewhat disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. The Hospital is a thoroughly solid escape room. The puzzles are rigorous and (with the exception of one minor point in an intermediate puzzle) unambiguous, without being boring. There’s a lot of subtle signposting, which might make the room too easy for experienced teams (but is very satisfying to think about afterwards, if you’re interested in puzzle signposting and room design).

Encounter is a company with a strong focus on setting and story, and that shows. The atmosphere is appropriately suspenseful without being overblown, and the generous use of space really helps to give a sense of progession. The room’s writers have also managed to build up a rich narrative without resorting to clumsy info-dumps. There’s a lot going on story-wise, some of which you might miss if you’re just focusing on the next lock.

But it has to be said: in terms of atmosphere and immersion, The Hospital does not live up to the unfairly high standards set by The Apartment. If you go in expecting a repeat of The Apartment, you won’t get it. You’ll probably enjoy yourself more if you approach The Hospital with curiosity about how the story behind The Apartment will be explained, or with expectations calibrated for a more conventional escape room experience.

Speaking of which, I’d personally say that teams must play and complete (or mostly complete) The Apartment before playing The Hospital. One of The Hospital’s strongest moments — the highlight of the experience, to me — builds directly upon players’ prior experience of The Apartment.

RECOMMENDED if and only if you’ve played The Apartment, but adjust your expectations. Everyone should play The Apartment, anyway. Everyone.

Puzzle difficulty: 3.5/5
Puzzle logic: 5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

Atmosphere and setting: 4.5/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 3/5
Storyline integration: 5/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 8
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5

Room review: Encounter: The Apartment

Their description: Millions of people around the world went missing without a trace every year.

Could they ever be found or return?

Suspense surrounding this apartment of a missing family has brought you and your friends to embark on a mission to find out the truth. You found a way into their locked apartment and now you are standing right in front of the gate, what will you do?

Are you ready to put your courage to the test?


 

Among the many escape rooms in Singapore, Encounter’s The Apartment stands apart. It describes itself as a “suspense game”, and that’s a good way of looking at it. It’s not just a room of puzzles to solve; it’s an immersive experience. It reminds me of interactive theatre, with the apartment itself being ‘alive’.

The friendly staff told us to set aside our preconceptions about escape rooms, and they were right. Many other escape rooms have puzzles that are only thinly connected to the plot, but this has a different approach. To get the most out of this room, you have to engage with it and get wrapped up in the storyline. In fact, the experience is a very curated, deliberately crafted one — you don’t solve the room on your own terms, but on its terms. (This could be annoying to some players, but it’s fully intended and not the product of bad game design or anything like that.)

The extremely detailed, realistic setting really helps with suspension of disbelief, and the tasks you have to do are also integrated seamlessly into the plot.

The puzzles themselves are not that hard, and most are not too complex. I wouldn’t go to this room in search of a merely intellectual thrill. But there are many other thrills and surprises in store which make up for this.

As the official description suggests, it’s not a room for the faint-hearted. But it doesn’t rely on cheap scares or artificial hindrances such as darkness. I’m a coward, but I was there with some brave team-mates, and I had a great time.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for everyone. It helps to have some brave people in the group, though.

Puzzle difficulty: 3/5
Puzzle logic: 5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

Atmosphere and setting: 5/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 5/5
Storyline integration: 5/5

Their suggested number of players: 4 to 8
My suggested number of players: 4 to 6