‘Room’ review: Xcape: Shanghai 1943

If you’ve already played Shanghai 1943, then check out The Tenants Upstairs by LOST in JB, which features the same game format.

Their description: In 1943, The Paramount flourished, bringing about an unprecedented golden age in Shanghai night club scene. The sun is setting, and breaking news emerged. The Paramount’s top singer, Red Rose, was found dead in her personal dressing room. There were signs that she was strangled… Behind all the glamour and bright neon lights, chilling dark secrets are waiting to be uncovered: Who’s The Murderer?

Xcape has brought something new to the escape room scene with its new Xcape RPG experience, Shanghai 1943. As a huge fan of the Korean murder mystery reality gameshow Crime Scene (as well as its Chinese adaptation 明星大侦探), I was thrilled to have a chance to essentially become a player in an episode of that show.

The Xcape creators have indeed watched both versions of the series, and Shanghai 1943 is a faithful adaptation of the Crime Scene format. Five players are suspects, each with their own secrets, motives, and case timelines. Any remaining players take on the roles of detective and assistant detective(s). The case unfolds over several ‘rooms’ full of evidence to be found and storylines waiting to be pieced together.

All players investigate the case together — but one suspect is secretly the murderer, and has to participate in the mystery-solving without being discovered. Only the murderer is allowed to lie, but all players can withhold information unless directly questioned about it.

The flow of the game (which lasts about 2 to 2.5 hours) is also closely patterned to that of Crime Scene. Players introduce themselves and say what they were doing before the crime scene was discovered. There is an initial round of searching, followed by the first group discussion. The detective (who gets two votes, unlike all the other players) casts a first vote. Then there’s a second round of searching, a final group discussion, and the final round of voting.

That’s the game structure, and it’s intriguing in its own right. The roleplay element makes the experience more fun and engaging than if all players were simply detectives — particularly for the murderer, who has to cast suspicion on other players while avoiding suspicion themselves. The existence of a physical set full of clues sets the game apart from similar genres such as interactive theatre or murder mystery dinners. And the need to piece together storylines and infer motives makes for a richer intellectual experience than, say, simple possibility-elimination.

What about the content of the game itself? The central plotline is satisfying and not too obvious or shallow. The set rewards exploration and the evidence is well-calibrated — suggesting enough without giving everything away. Much of the fun comes from drawing links between disparate pieces of evidence and making inferential leaps to uncover all the suspects’ stories.

There are some caveats, the chief one being: the quality of your experience will depend to a large extent on whether the murderer plays well. If the murderer gives away too much, is bad at explaining themselves, or is just too obviously suspicious, then even though there are still other fun storylines to figure out, the central case might become too easy. My team was lucky to have an excellent murderer, making our game experience tougher and hence more rewarding. (Your experience will probably also be more fun if your team is willing to roleplay and banter a bit.)

The game also has some minor flaws. Some evidence is a little confusing or ambiguous. The initial briefing files (each suspect gets a few minutes to read up on their character) have a couple of weak spots. And the final solution, while satisfying upon revelation, might have one or two questionable aspects upon further reflection.

Nonetheless, Xcape’s Shanghai 1943 is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED as a must-play experience: firstly, as the only game of its kind here, and secondly as just a thoroughly engaging and satisfying mystery. (The only remotely similar thing here, not counting one-off events, is Lockdown’s CSI room, which offers a fun crime-solving time in its own right but lacks the roleplay element.)

Go and have fun — and definitely consider watching the Korean and Chinese versions of Crime Scene before/after your game, too! (And once you’ve played Shanghai 1943, cross the Causeway and play The Tenants Upstairs.)

Case difficulty: 3/5
Case logic: 4/5

Atmosphere and setting: 4/5
Storyline integration: 5/5

Their suggested number of players: 6 to 7
My suggested number of players: 6 to 7

Room review: Xcape: The Morgue

Their description: The creepiest place of that hospital would be the morgue. Cries of help were heard from time to time and the electronics always malfunctioned in there. Interns from other hospitals have always bragged about these spooky events but you have not been permitted to enter yours yet! Today you decided to break into the morgue. What scary experiences will be awaiting ahead?

Compared to Xcape Haunted’s other room Annabelle, The Morgue is a bit less of a typical escape room and more task-oriented, at least by Singapore standards. This fits well with the horror elements and the surprisingly significant storyline, making The Morgue more of an ~experience~ than a regular room.

The puzzles themselves are fine. The room gets off to a somewhat weak and semi-tedious start, but swiftly improves, with fair ahas and intriguing mechanisms. Some puzzles are integrated very naturally into the setting, adding to the sense of narrative immersion.

But in any case, the puzzles aren’t really the point. The atmosphere, surprises, and sense of tension are what make this room work. There’s also at least one key point where you have to engage with the storyline to a greater degree than most escape rooms, which elevated the experience. And the conclusion is actually a narrative conclusion — which can be a little confusing if you’re used to more conventional endings, but makes a nice change nonetheless.

It’s not a perfect room, and there are certainly points where it sags, including an exposition-dump near the end, and a somewhat muffled sound system. But it’s still wholly RECOMMENDED for the sheer thrill of the experience, even if you’re a coward like me. For logistical reasons, teams should contain at least two members without mobility issues. Larger teams might find themselves without much to do — I’d recommend that larger teams try Annabelle instead, which scales better.

Puzzle difficulty: 3/5
Puzzle logic: 4/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 4/5

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

Their suggested number of players: 5 to 8
My suggested number of players: 3 to 4

Room review: Xcape: Annabelle

Their description: The paranormal investigator, William had performed exorcism on the infamous Annabelle doll and showcased it in the Paranormal Museum within his home. Unfortunately the demon that possessed Annabelle had returned! As demonologists, can you help William to end the curse on Annabelle once and for all, or die trying?

Xcape continues their slow takeover of Bugis Village with two ‘Xcape Haunted’ rooms, in collaboration with Malaysian outfit Lost in JB. Having heard a lot about how terrifying Lost in JB’s rooms apparently are, my curiosity triumphed over my cowardice — and I think it was worth it.

In promoting its Annabelle room, Xcape has highlighted the horror aspect, and that’s fair enough. There are plenty of multimedia thrills and scares, some of which do feel quite cinematic. The scares are also somewhat more propelled by the narrative than e.g. random body parts, giving a mixed sense of progress and apprehension.

But even if you don’t enjoy horror (and I certainly don’t), there are other things to appreciate. The puzzles are fair and logical without being entirely boring. Scares aside, there are various great physical aspects, from puzzles to hidden spaces.

It’s also great that Xcape doesn’t use logistical constraints to make this room artificially hard. Surprisingly for a scary room, the lighting is bright enough that torchlights aren’t needed, which I deeply appreciated. The room also has a generous, longer-than-usual 75min time limit, presumably to make up for the delay that fear could cause.

My only real complaint is that there’s a risk of technical malfunction, which did happen to my group and basically caused the creepy atmosphere to dissolve; good if you’re a coward, but bad for general room immersion. But maybe you’ll be lucky enough not to face that issue.

If you enjoy horror, you should definitely play this room. But even if you’re a coward like me, this room is RECOMMENDED for fair puzzles and a real sense of (fear-laced) adventure due to the room structure. (And though this room was more consistently scary, I personally found it less terrifying than certain aspects of Unravel’s Ouija, though I don’t know if this was also due to the people I was playing with…)

Puzzle difficulty: 3.5/5
Puzzle logic: 4.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 4/5

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

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

Room review: Xcape: Kungfu Panda X – The Return of Tai Lung

Their description: After 50 years, Tai Lung had returned to the Valley of Peace, stronger than ever, seeking revenge and to claim the scroll of Wuxi Finger Hold! As Master Shifu, Po and the Furious 5 were out fighting evils, Po Juniors were defenseless and had been locked away in the kitchen. There’s no time to waste! Po Juniors must quickly free themselves and stop Tai Lung from stealing “Wuxi Finger Hold”…

This feels like one of Xcape’s most coherent and thus satisfying rooms, combining their well-established strength of hands-on problem-solving, a largely convincing sense of setting (at least to begin with), fair and logical puzzles, and a ridiculously fun climax.

The physical tasks are non-trivial without being tedious — they really are about problem-solving, as opposed to execution, and thus provide a pleasantly different sort of intellectual challenge. [Update, 18 July 2016: Having now played some rooms at Breakout in Kuala Lumpur, it seems that the beginning of Xcape’s room is a copy of the beginning of one of Breakout’s rooms. The rest of Xcape’s room is distinct, but it’s a shame that such apparent plagiarism is part of this room.]

And while the more traditional puzzles (which, yes, include that old Xcape staple of matching…) aren’t game-changing, they’re at least enlivened in various ways, whether it’s fun use of tech in their execution, twists on the usual formula, or both.

There’s also a sustained attempt to keep everything relevant to the storyline — including some multimedia touches — and a conclusion that feels like a proper triumph. It’s not an especially demanding room, but even if you sail through it, I don’t think you’ll feel shortchanged.

RECOMMENDED as a competent, satisfying room with some particularly fun touches.

Puzzle difficulty: 3/5
Puzzle logic: 4.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

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

Their suggested number of players: 5 to 7
My suggested number of players: 4 to 6. For logistical reasons, you really should have at least four players, and having more will help.

Room review: Xcape: Doraemon – A Dream Come True

Note: This room has apparently been rebranded as Mission X – The Love Confession. No idea if the puzzles are the same, but it seems likely.

Their description: You have always been in love with Shizuka, but never been able to muster up the courage to tell her. Today, with Doraemon’s magic tools, you have finally decided to give a cherry blossom bouquet to Shizuka and confess your love. This is not going to be smooth sailing, from what we always know from the comic. So can you overcome the challenges? Will Shizuka say yes? Will your dream finally come true?

The two rooms at Xcape’s third outlet, Xcape Funtasy, are rather different from your usual escape rooms. This Doraemon room, in particular, is almost entirely task-based; there are barely any puzzles in the usual sense of the word.

But who needs puzzles when you have such fun tasks? This room features many gadgets from that fictional world, some of which were genuinely cool even to jaded veterans like us, and all of which contribute to the magical atmosphere of this room. It also helps that the tasks are largely non-tedious and logical; you’re never really at a loss for what to do.

Speaking of atmosphere: the setting is technically rather bare, with a heavy reliance on painted backgrounds, yet it manages to feel more convincing than should be possible (with one particularly fun touch midway through). You could even argue that the 2D backgrounds fit the comic/cartoon’s source material…

Another way in which this room differs from Xcape’s usual offerings is that it’s very narrative-driven — and in a rather unique way. To say more would be to spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that you get a real sense of progressing through the story, and it doesn’t involve reading lots of boring text.

In a word: fun. And given that the room was basically one tech-based flourish after another, the single malfunction we faced (which was quickly resolved by a staff member) doesn’t seem too bad.

RECOMMENDED for anyone who wants to have fun, especially beginners. Just don’t come here looking for an intellectual challenge.

Puzzle difficulty: 2/5
Puzzle logic: 4.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

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

Their suggested number of players: 4 to 6
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5

Room review: Xcape: Resident Evil

Their description: The Government had developed biological weapons in the 80s under the project code “X” and built the X-Lab. In 1987, the X-Lab was closed and all the personnel working on the X project mysteriously disappeared. Thereafter all relevant information on the X project was filed and classified as Top National Secret. There are three passcodes required to open up the files, each passcode held by the President, Vice-President and the Minister of National Defence respectively. In order to counter the Company, Mr. President decided to reactivate Project X and specially task Hachi’s team to penetrate the X-lab. Will the Project X work? Why had Project X been terminated in 1987?

Reading that description makes me wonder if Xcape’s Resident Evil room was originally quite different, because I certainly didn’t notice any of that plot-related stuff in the room itself. Fortunately, even without much of a driving narrative, Resident Evil is a room with enough going on to keep you occupied.

First of all, you can usually expect a decent setting and atmosphere with Xcape’s rooms, and Resident Evil is no exception: not mindblowing, but it certainly gets the job done. (If you’re worried about it being scary, based on their promotional video, don’t be; it’s slightly creepy at worst.)

Where most of Xcape’s rooms really shine, in my view, is in their physical aspects. I appreciate rooms that involve hands-on problem-solving, and Resident Evil has some great examples of that, including perhaps one of my favourite observation-based, hands-on ‘aha’ moments in any escape room in Singapore. There’s also a segment which requires pure execution — or, as they helpfully but spoiler-ifically state in their own room description, “shooting skills”. This may not be what everyone wants as part of their escape room experience, but it at least makes a refreshing change from merely intellectual challenges.

It’s on the intellectual front that this room fails to deliver, and I think some of my comrades were sorely disappointed by this. You should avoid overthinking any of the puzzles; many might stump you precisely because of how straightforward they are. There are also one or two red herrings which I found unfair.

That having been said, I still found Resident Evil to be a decent adventure that wasn’t at all generic or boring. RECOMMENDED unless you place a lot of weight on intellectual puzzles.

It’s also a tricky room to evaluate based on my current rubric. The actual puzzles have easy answers, but the room as a whole is fairly demanding. When I started this blog, I deliberately decided to rate rooms based on ‘puzzle difficulty’ rather than ‘overall room difficulty’ (which would include other things such as logistical challenges, sheer volume of puzzles, etc.). But Resident Evil leans so strongly on aspects other than traditional puzzles that I feel I should make an exception here.

As for the traditional puzzles, they have technically logical answers but are too ambiguous to be considered well-crafted, in that there are too many possibilities in solving them.

Basically, don’t take the following numerical scores too seriously.

Puzzle Room difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 3/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 2/5

Atmosphere and setting: 3.5/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 5/5
Storyline integration: 2/5

Their suggested number of players: 6 to 9
My suggested number of players: 4 to 7. You’ll be split into two groups at the start, but the split-start doesn’t last very long.

Room review: Xcape: Tomb Raider

This room was attempted in collaboration with some of the cool guys at S-capegoats.
Check out their review of the room too!

Their description: In the inheritance of the murdered scientist, Glenn, there was a map marking the exact location of an ancient tomb built in the period of the Five Dynasties. What could have triggered the Western scientist’s interest in a tomb in the Far East? Could it be the exotic treasures, the mysterious ba gua and geomancy, or even the legends of the ghosts and spirits? Nothing seems to be able to explain why this tomb would draw the Company’s attention.

I feel that Xcape’s Tomb Raider room is the unpolished, beta version of what could have been an excellent escape room. There were a lot of great things about this room, but also many annoying flaws that made the experience somehow less than the sum of its parts.

First, the good things. This room was a veritable warren of chambers, with more unlockable areas than I’ve seen before, and also various exciting physical things you had to do. This added to the sense of adventure and made for a grander experience, even if the actual number of puzzles to be solved wasn’t that high.

The puzzles, while not mind-blowing, were more imaginative than in some other Xcape rooms. There was a mix of puzzle forms and ways of both presenting and solving them, making things more fun than if you just had to read clues and enter number codes.

But then there are the flaws. There were fun verbal clues at every stage, but some seemed misleading or ill-fitting for what they were trying to convey. At least two puzzles also felt somewhat poorly crafted, making them hard to execute despite knowing exactly what to do.

Another inescapable flaw was in the physical locks involved. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that if you want a good chance of getting out of this room, you should familiarise yourself with this sort of lock. It is very easy to have the right combination and yet be unable to open the lock — a physical flaw that I don’t think good escape rooms should have.

Overall, this room is RECOMMENDED if you are used to successful escapes and would like more of a challenge — though the challenges may not be due to actual puzzle difficulty! — or if you really enjoy a large, multi-chamber room and physical aspects. Otherwise, it’s WORTH A TRY, but don’t get your hopes too high.

Do note this room has some pretty unforgiving physical requirements. You’ll need at least one member with good upper body strength, and people who are larger in build might have some trouble. Less mobile players should not attempt this room. Xcape advises people not to wear skirts and heels when attempting this room, and I’d agree with them.

Puzzle difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 3/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

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

Their suggested number of players: 6 to 9
My suggested number of players: 5 to 6

Room review: Xcape: Upside Down

Their description: You have successfully been identified as Dr. Hachi’s apprentices and this marks the beginning of your journey of adventure to the world unknown to the rest of the world! You have been introduced to the magical world as a training ground. Unfamiliar with all the customs and practices in the magical community, you need to learn everything from scratch so that you can leave here sound and safe. Your world is going to be upside down for the day!

This is a relaxed, fun little room from Xcape, with their most coherent attempt at a theme yet: Harry Potter. A knowledge of the Harry Potter universe will speed up your puzzle-solving, though it’s not required at all.

The puzzles are clear and obvious, down to a helpful ‘walkthrough’ of sorts in plain sight in the room. Unfortunately this also makes them a little bland, and many of them just rely on that old Xcape staple of matching (sigh).

But the draw of Upside Down isn’t really the puzzles. It’s the sense of fun. Xcape veterans might feel a little surprised or disappointed by how Upside Down is less physically complex than their other rooms, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. There’s a great use of technology — unfortunately marred a bit by ‘lag’. If you think you have the right answer but are confused by the lack of progress, just give it a minute or two, and it will probably work. A very helpful staff member seemed to be overseeing our progress and would check in whenever we had the right answer but were just waiting for things to work, so that was useful.

WORTH A TRY, as long as you don’t expect much of an intellectual challenge, and go in prepared to have fun instead.

Puzzle difficulty: 2/5
Puzzle logic: 4/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 1.5/5

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

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


Room review: Xcape: Vampire Diary

Their description: In order to return a favor to Salvatore, Dr. Hachi has assigned you the mission to penetrate the place that is rumored to be Dracula’s castle. By “cooperating” with the supernatural creatures, you could overcome the perilous traps and hurdles to retrieve the one and only cure for the supernatural beings to become “normal”. The story of immortal being, blood thirsty soul, and the curse of darkness, may be more than just an ancient legend……

Vampire Diary is a bit of a disappointment for an Xcape room. While it does feature at least one satisfyingly dramatic, high-budget element, the puzzles themselves are not that creative. There’s quite a bit of tedious matching, general busy-work, and some leaps of logic.

There’s a bit more of an attempt than usual at preserving a storyline and making some puzzles relevant, but its effectiveness is debatable.

Still, if you want a room that makes you work up till the last minute — something which not that many escape rooms accomplish — then you could give this a shot.

NOT ESPECIALLY RECOMMENDED otherwise. Try another Xcape room; they have much better other ones.

Puzzle difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 3/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 2/5

Atmosphere and setting: 3/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 3.5/5
Storyline integration: 2.5/5

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

Overall review: Xcape Singapore

Xcape Singapore’s rooms are generally big on special effects, hidden doorways and other exciting physical elements. They can be quite entertaining as a result, but you’ve got to bear with the risk of being combined with another group.

The puzzles themselves vary significantly across rooms. Some are not that inventive or enjoyable and may involve a lot of tedious matching, and can be downright unsatisfying or anticlimactic. Still, better rooms have good multimedia puzzles, which help to make up for it.

In any case, one doesn’t come to Xcape for the puzzles per se. Instead, Xcape is notable for:

  • Scale. With the important exception of Upside Down, Xcape’s rooms are usually physically complex, with Tomb Raider in particular featuring the most extensive network of rooms I’ve seen here.
  • Tasks and hands-on problems-solving, which make a nice change from regular puzzles.
  • Technological frills and thrills, particularly in its Xcape Funtasy and Xcape Haunted series. These later rooms are great at providing a full ~experience, not simply an escape room.

That’s not to say that Xcape is all style and no substance. In fact, the later rooms which focus more on tasks also tend to have fairer puzzles.

Do note that Xcape has several different outlets, although they’re all located along the same stretch of Bugis Village.

Xcape Season 2 is WORTH A VISIT, especially if you’re used to completing rooms successfully and want a bit more of a challenge. But be warned, the challenges might not always be satisfying.

In contrast, if you’re looking for pure fun rather than a challenge, then their two Xcape Funtasy rooms are RECOMMENDED. And if you’re looking for a thrilling time alongside fair puzzles, the Xcape Haunted rooms are definitely RECOMMENDED too.

Then there is the stellar Xcape RPG, Shanghai 1943 — not an escape room, but a very fun and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED murder mystery roleplaying game that offers a solid plot, complex character roles and a set full of evidence to be discovered.

Staff: They’re strict when it comes to starting the game on time. But on the whole, customer service seems to have improved a lot since Xcape’s early days. Staff are now friendly and quick to respond to calls for help — as well as proactive when technology malfunctions.

Hints: When I played Season 2 in 2014 and 2015, the policy was for two hints only. You have to find hint cards in the room, and can then use them to get hints via intercom phone or waving at the CCTV (or possibly doorbell in some cases, I’m not sure). At Xcape Funtasy in 2016, you were allowed to simply ask for hints, with a limit of two hints every half-hour. The Xcape Haunted rooms didn’t have a hint limit.

Will your group be combined with strangers? Yes.

Rooms tried: 8 out of 9 current rooms (+ one excellent murder mystery RPG); various former rooms, 2 of which are reviewed here

Recommended team size: 5 to 7 for Season 2 in general; 3 to 4 for Upside Down. Ideal team sizes for the Xcape Funtasy and Xcape Haunted rooms vary significantly; check the individual reviews.

Specific room reviews

Current rooms

Season 2
Vampire Diary
Upside Down
Tomb Raider
Resident Evil

Season 3
Shutter Island

Doraemon – A Dream Come True
Kungfu Panda X – The Return of Tai Lung

The Morgue

Not an escape room, but highly recommended
Shanghai 1943

Former rooms

Season 1+
Whisper of The Dead (original version)
Chamber of Secrets (original version)

Xcape Singapore