‘Room’ review: Xcape: Shanghai 1943

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!

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: The Escape Artist: The Forsaken Vault Heroes

This review is left here merely as a record.

Their description: 23 years ago, several groups of intrepid explorers entered the depths of the Vault… and were never heard from again. The authorities sealed off the entire area, and it seemed that the mysteries of the Baron’s castle would remain hidden forever. However, the discovery of a scroll with the Baron’s insignia describing a treasure of unimaginable value has sparked your team to make one final desperate venture into the Vault…

When it first opened, The Forsaken Vault was notable for being three escape rooms in one: Chapters 1, 2 and 3 took place in subsets of the same multi-chambered space. Now, the three separate chapters have been retired and the vault has become one large escape room instead. Billed as TEA’s hardest room, The Forsaken Vault Heroes has a longer-than-usual 75-minute time limit — which may still seem to fly by as you grapple with the multi-layered puzzles.

The decor is largely unchanged from the vault’s early days, and some of the room’s secrets and tricks may be familiar to players who’ve played earlier chapters. In that sense, the room might be most enjoyable for those who are visiting — and thus discovering it — for the first time.

Still, for returning players, it’s interesting to see how the decor and spaces have been repurposed. Most importantly, the puzzles are all completely new.

The puzzles are as logical as we’ve come to expect from TEA, but also more complex than before, making this a good room for puzzle enthusiasts. Highlights include a multi-layered puzzle which makes fun use of one of the room’s few physical changes, and a satisfying finale.

A reliance on flavourtext means that the room’s narrative serves mainly as a source of clues rather than immersion. But this isn’t a room that you should play for immersion, anyway (though it does make an effort on that front).

If you find the puzzles in other escape rooms too easy, then The Forsaken Vault Heroes is RECOMMENDED as a rare room that’s challenging for largely the right reasons. Beginners will probably find it too hard.

Puzzle difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 4.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 1/5

Atmosphere and setting: 3/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 3/5
Storyline integration: 2/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 10
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5. Players are split into two groups at the beginning.

Room review: Freeing SG: Jurassic

Their description: A power outage has occurred in the Jurassic Research Facility! As a researcher in the facility, it is your duty to protect a unique dinosaur egg which originated from a rarely seen mutated species. This egg has enormous research value and may hold the genetic code to cure cancer.

Dinosaurs in the facility have breached the perimeter of their captivity, find the unique dinosaur egg and escape before you become a prey!

Even by Freeing’s standards, Jurassic is a very brief room. There aren’t many puzzles, and only one of them posed a challenge (for the wrong reasons).

To the room’s credit, quite some effort was put into creating an industrial lab feel, and various technological tricks and flourishes help to spice up the generally logical puzzles. The game also has a dramatic climax which I found both original and amusing.

Jurassic is WORTH A TRY for beginners, especially if they slow down and enjoy the setting. Experienced teams may be disappointed, and this room is NOT RECOMMENDED for experienced teams who want at least half-an-hour’s worth of fun. (Our team of three escaped in about 15 minutes.)

Puzzle difficulty: 1/5
Puzzle logic: 4/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 2/5

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

Their suggested number of players: 6
My suggested number of players: 2

coming soon: the RED DOT hunt!

If you enjoy escape room puzzles, but wish they were more interesting;
If you love the intense puzzles that some escape game events offer;
If you want more escape rooms to be like Trapped in My Own Mind;

Then check out the RED DOT hunt!

It’s a free 48-hour online puzzle hunt for teams of one to four players, happening from 10pm on Friday, September 29 till 10pm on Sunday, October 1.

There’s also a 🌟 prize 🌟 for the first Singapore-based team to finish!

Registration’s open now.
Head over to reddothunt.sg to find out more!

Room review: Freeing SG: Twilight

Their description: A girl from your tribe has been kidnapped by an immortal being. Werewolves attempt to save her but failed miserably due to an unexpected lunar eclipse during the battle with the immortal. You, one of the werewolves, are chained up in the immortal’s courtyard. How would you escape? Nightfall is approaching. You’ll need to call on the moon by howling to gain back your immense strength.

For a relatively brief room, Twilight ticks quite a few escape room boxes, for better or worse. There’s the start-of-room handcuffs, the thematic first task, some hands-on stuff and trigger mechanisms, a dash of logic, an (unfortunately easily ignored) attempt at narrative, and some surprises along the way.

Unfortunately, its ‘main’ puzzle (or what seemed like the main puzzle to me, anyway) is somewhat unsatisfying, despite some twists which I appreciate in theory. And because this room is so brief, experienced teams might be underwhelmed.

I’d say it’s WORTH A TRY for beginners or those who (like me) just want to play more rooms — just adjust your expectations.

This room is not for players with mobility issues.

Puzzle difficulty: 2/5
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
Storyline integration: 3/5

Their suggested number of players: 6
My suggested number of players: 2 to 4

Room review: Freeing SG: White House

Their description: As a top notched [sic] agent, you’re tasked to infiltrate The White House to retrieve confidential documents and nuclear activation code. Your organization has provided you with a tablet for communication, but the signal seems to be jammed. You’ll have to get out in 60 minutes before the mission is compromised.

Will you be able to complete the Mission?

The most interesting aspect of White House is probably the use of a tablet as a central device for progressing through the room. Some other rooms have made good — arguably even better — use of digital devices, but not in the same sustained manner. In the White House, the tablet provides and justifies a linear structure, strengthens the theme and narrative, and simply provides an alternative to regular locks.

White House also has the fun technological flourishes you can expect from a Freeing room, and a finale that’s very cool and narratively strong… in theory. As it happened, my team ended up skipping it by mistake, which was a shame. (But it’s also a shame that the room’s construction allows that to happen.)

That’s the good stuff. Unfortunately, White House gets off to a shaky start, with an early puzzle that’s cool in theory but frustrating in practice. The puzzles do get smoother, but some questionable phrasing (and unintentional red herrings) midway through might hamper your progress.

Still, I do consider the room WORTH A TRY — just don’t be afraid to ask for help in the early stages if you’re stuck, and keep moving towards the latter half of the game, where the payoff is better.

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

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

Their suggested number of players: 6
My suggested number of players: 2 to 4

Three years on

So this blog turned three on July 19, and while I didn’t have an update planned for then, I did play my 99th and 100th Singapore* escape rooms today — reviews to come soon. This was after having gone for S-capegoats‘ excellent NS-cape event, of which more over on escaped.sg (eventually).

After four years of escaping from rooms and three years of running this blog, I’m glad that the escape event scene continues to expand and improve, and that there are still new rooms here which I haven’t played (Freeing’s ongoing takeover of the former U Escape space; the fourth chapter of The Escape Artist’s Forsaken Vault room; an apparent upcoming Captivate (!) room). Though the industry has seen its share of casualties, here’s hoping that the escape scene in Singapore will stay very much alive.

*I’ve also played a further 26 overseas.

Room review: Freeing SG: Poseidon

Their description: The gods are furious with mermaid princess Ariel’s relationship with the prince. Her father Poseidon, God of the Sea, refused to give them his blessings and sealed the Pearl of the Seas in his palace. Legend has it that this magical Pearl will allow mermaids to live on Land.

Touched by their true love, you decided to sneak into Poseidon’s palace and steal the Pearl of the Seas for Ariel…

So it turns out that the U Escape unit at Plaza Singapura was bought over by Freeing SG a while ago, and all their rooms have been replaced. Good news for us — better an untested Freeing room than a U Escape room which you can rely upon to be tedious.

I’ve only tried one room at the new outlet so far, but it seems to be classic Freeing: lots of physical/electronic frills, a smallish number of generally-okay-but-sometimes-a-bit-dubious puzzles.

Credit where it’s due: this room has the most distinctive and surprising beginning of any room I’ve played (though some might find it questionable). The use of technology is generally storyline-motivated, particularly at one fun moment in the endgame stretch. And there are some dramatic things in store.

Weak points include some red herrings and a slightly rough-around-the-edges feel to the set. Sadly, this room is completely unplayable if you have mobility issues.

Nothing groundbreaking puzzle-wise, but WORTH A TRY if you care about fun frills; maybe even RECOMMENDED if you really enjoy novelty and dramatic elements.

Puzzle difficulty: 2.5/5
Puzzle logic: 3.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

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

Their suggested number of players: 6
My suggested number of players: 2 to 4

Room review: LOST SG: Mausoleum

Their description: Built to protect the Emperor in his afterlife, the Terracotta Army are clay figures of Emperor Qin’s army in an underground mausoleum.

You together with your group of friends decided to visit the Terracotta Army world heritage site one day. Intrigued by the history of the mausoleum, you wandered deep into the restricted area to feed your curiosity and unfortunately lost your way.

Cut from all forms of communication, everyone panicked and entered the restricted area in an attempt to escape. Everything is unfamiliar and you can’t shake the uneasiness creeping in.

Going deeper, you found a door and led everyone in. Little did anyone expect the door to be shut from the outside. It appears to be a trap door! As everyone panicked about the situation, you notice a reflective liquid filling up the room.

We were excited at the prospect of a new LOST SG room, given our decent experiences at their other ones, but unfortunately their newest room is a bit of a letdown.

First, the good stuff. LOST SG’s old strength of high-tech mechanisms is still very much in evidence, with barely a standard lock in sight. But whether flashy gadgets are suitable for an old Chinese tomb is another question. Some effects are both exciting and appropriate for the setting, with one mid-game highlight giving a frisson of tomb-raiding; many others are, unfortunately, a little out of place.

That applies to the setting and narrative more generally: although some effort has clearly been made, the room is still relatively unconvincing as a tomb, and the puzzles are vaguely thematic in form but not so much in substance.

The puzzles also have other weaknesses: an early one is (in my view) fairly impossible without reading the setter’s mind, and the endgame puzzle makes unintuitive and partial use of given information. Unless you really enjoy exciting effects, Mausoleum is unfortunately NOT RECOMMENDED.

Puzzle difficulty: 3.5/5
Puzzle logic: 2.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 2/5

Atmosphere and setting: 3.5/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 4/5
Storyline integration: 2/5

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

Room review: Freeing SG: Rise to the Challenge: Biohazard

This was a pop-up escape room that was only around for about a week (19 to 27 Jan 2017), which is why I’m not posting the actual review here. But it was a great and groundbreaking (for Singapore) room, and I’d love to see more like it.

You can find the review over on my escape event blog, escaped.sg, instead:
Freeing SG – Rise to the Challenge: Biohazard