U Escape

Room review: U Escape: Szechuan Secret

Freeing SG has taken over the Plaza Singapura space instead.
This review is left here merely as a record.

Their description: You’re an undercover Government Operative on a secret mission in a foreign country. Will you be able to uncover the code in time?

Sometimes you play a room and you can’t wait to write a review (and have to deliberately delay doing so, in order to assess it in a slightly more detached state). And sometimes you play a room and just… don’t really want to write the review.

It would be easier if Szechuan Secret were just irredeemably bad. The problem is that there were some touches which I appreciated, and which made the room’s flaws that much more frustrating.

First, full disclosure: we did not escape. This rarely happens, and probably made our experience extra disappointing. It also means that we had only a partial experience of the room. Nonetheless, I’d argue that a good escape room should be enjoyable regardless of whether you succeed, and should be consistent enough that you do enjoy whatever percentage of it you get to see.

The room did not get off to a great start. When I go for an escape room, I expect to be solving puzzles or doing clever tasks. I don’t expect to be trying random hidden number combinations on whatever locks are lying around. I consider this approach so terrible that I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention it.

(It would be different if the number combinations were at least hinted at; for example, if you had a room full of books, and a clue pointed you to a specific book with a number on the spine. That is not what happens in this room.)

I also dislike 1) tedious puzzles 2) that are purely about execution. There is at least one of those in this room — and as if that wasn’t enough, the same puzzle is also unsatisfying for other reasons.

If all of Szechuan Secret had continued in that vein, then at least we could have just laughed hollowly about it later and called it quits. But what was truly frustrating — for me, at least — is that some parts of the room did work for me. One puzzle was a little tedious but made fun use of a gadget; another was just another hidden code, but at least it was cleverly hidden. Another puzzle was conveyed in a fun manner, reminded us of the storyline, and made decent use of the setting. If we had gotten further in the room, maybe we would have uncovered one or two other nice puzzles. Who knows.

As for non-puzzle aspects: the decor is fine and there are some nice physical flourishes. There’s a bit of scene setting (that unfortunately suffered from technical malfunction) at the start, and the previously-mentioned puzzle that tries to bring players back to the storyline, but nothing outstanding in terms of immersion.

U Escape bills itself as a US-style escape room outfit, and its rooms are apparently imported from a company in Kansas. I have to say, if this is representative of what US rooms are like, then I’m not particularly interested in playing them.

In case you’re wondering, this room is NOT RECOMMENDED. Unless you’re willing to brave the terrible beginning in the hope of discovering better puzzles later on.

Since it’s unlikely that I’ll return to try other U Escape games, I’ll just make some overall, non-room-specific observations here as well:
– Good things first: the hint system is relatively non-intrusive, in that you’re given hints on a television screen. This also means that you know someone is watching your progress, so you won’t be stuck in a situation where e.g. tech malfunctions and no one notices. The flip side is that their usual practice is to give unsolicited hints if a team seems stuck. But we requested for them not to do so, and they kindly complied, so that’s an easily avoidable option.
– U Escape is one of the pricier options around, at $29 before GST (something that caught us off-guard, since at all other companies, the advertised price is just what you pay).
– Unless you buy all 10 (!) slots in a room, you may be combined with other players.

Puzzle difficulty: 2.5/5
Puzzle logic: 3/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

Atmosphere and setting: 3/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 3.5/5
Storyline integration: 1.5/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 10
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5