Room review: Captivate: Alien vs Human

Their description: A spaceship hurtles towards earth containing a badass Alien species looking for a fight. Can you flush the aliens out of the airlock before the craft reaches its destination?

Remember: Everyone can hear you scream at Captivate.

Captivate’s latest room is an interesting one to review. What first strikes you is that it makes some effort to create a spaceship feel — though I wouldn’t overstate this.

The puzzles are hard to generalise about. Some are kind of clever; some are rigorous but not especially tied to the narrative; some are cool; some are cute; some are quite immersion-breaking. The endgame is impressively clever but has a minor design flaw that we didn’t like.

Overall, Alien vs Human is a decent if occasionally flawed experience, with some fun flourishes and moments of discovery, and enough content to earn a longer runtime of 75 minutes. It’s definitely at least WORTH A TRY. Frankly, in Singapore’s current shrinking escape room landscape, it’s possibly even RECOMMENDED.

Puzzle difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 3.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

Atmosphere and setting: 3/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 2.5/5
Storyline integration: 1.5/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 12
My suggested number of players: 2 to 4

KL updates

Both Captivate and Xcape have opened new rooms, but sadly I probably won’t be playing them any time soon.

However, following a couple of trips to KL, the Escaping Malaysia page has been updated with reviews of the rest of Breakout’s rooms, and two horror rooms at LOST in KL (one of which is also available at LOST in JB).

I’m still wondering whether to mention Breakout’s not-an-escape-room Hauntu experience somewhere, given that it features negligible puzzling. In the meantime, here’s a link to my TripAdvisor review. The first chapter is closing at the end of June, so I’d recommend checking it out soon! (I, for one, am looking forward to the sequel.)

Room review: Lockdown.SG: VR Escape – Illusion

Their description: Trapped inside your own mind, inside your own dream! Test subjects of a secret organization that is feeding you hallucinogenic drugs, you are lost between reality and dream.
Your guard is gone for 2 hours and you have to find the antidote and return to reality so you can escape! Nothing makes sense though…
Just when you thought you found the solution, a door transports you to another universe, you will have to fight against your own logic, because the dream can become a nightmare!

When I heard about Lockdown’s two-hour VR room, my first thought was: How does anyone survive two hours in VR?? That was despite the fact that I’m keen on VR experiences. At $45 per person, the game is by far the cheapest dollar-for-hour VR experience around, but its long runtime can be daunting.

The good news is that the physical toll of VR wasn’t as great as I feared, and two hours passes faster than you’d expect. There’s plenty to do, ranging from environment exploration and tool usage to more standard escape-room-style puzzles. Indeed, the two-hour time limit is barely enough to complete the game — not due to time-wasting aspects, but simply the sheer volume of content. If you often feel let down by content-light escape rooms that end too early, then you should try Illusion for a thorough challenge. Some puzzles are admittedly challenging for the wrong reasons, but the overall puzzle standard isn’t bad.

Illusion is made by the same company behind Lockdown’s other VR escape room offering, Abandoned Mine, and starts out in a familiar environment: dingy, kind of ominous, vaguely industrial. Unlike Abandoned Mine, however, Illusion makes good use of the VR medium to take players to a vast range of environments as the game progresses. There are also some cool moments and transitions that are only possible because of the game’s VR nature.

If you’re interested in how VR can be used to its fullest potential in creating adventures, my top recommendation remains Virtual Room Singapore’s two excellent, haptic-feedback-heavy, multi-environment games, with their exciting use of non-conventional physics — the only problem being that they aren’t escape rooms per se. If you’re happy with a decent escape room adventure that takes place via VR, and/or would like to challenge yourself with a content-heavy room, then Illusion is RECOMMENDED. If you’re not already a fan of VR, though, this game is unlikely to change your mind.

Puzzle difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 3.5/5
Gameplay variation: 3.5/5

Atmosphere and setting: 4/5
Exciting moments, effective use of VR: 3.5/5
Storyline integration: 3/5

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

Room review: Bearcraft: Dreamworld

Their description: This is why you should stop playing so much video games during the day. You are now trapped in your dream and this is a game where you must win in order to wake up!

Bearcraft combines rigorous logic puzzles with a pleasant if fairly minimalist setting. I can’t stress enough that your enjoyment of the game will be directly related to how much you like solving logic puzzles in an escape room. There’s still some hands-on interaction and a couple of cute surprises, but the room is ultimately much more of a cerebral experience than an adventure.

At the risk of repeating myself from my other Lockdown reviews: if you don’t mind the use of a tablet and logic-heavy puzzles, Bearcraft is WORTH A TRY. If you actually enjoy rigorous logic puzzles and don’t mind a less immersive room, it’s RECOMMENDED.

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

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

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

Room review: Bears of Justice

Their description: A super villian has planted a bomb in a nuclear facility. It is up to the Bears of Justice to save the day!

Lockdown rates this as their hardest room, and that’s certainly the case. But there aren’t unreasonable leaps of logic required, at least. On the contrary, all the puzzles are scrupulously logical, to the extent that teams that aren’t fond of logic-based puzzles might find not find this room’s puzzles to their taste — though at least one puzzle has quite an inspired aha which I enjoyed.

There’s some clever incorporation of puzzles and reveals into the physical setting, with a few dramatic touches and a sustained attempt at maintaining the narrative. But as is the case with all rooms in this outlet, the tablet remains a somewhat immersion-breaking layer between players and the room. If that doesn’t bother you, Bears of Justice provides a very rigorous experience that’s WORTH A TRY, or even RECOMMENDED if you prioritise puzzles over setting and are a fan of logic puzzles.

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

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

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

Room review: Captivate: Murder on the Singapore Express

Their description: The murder of a little known Belgium detective in Singapore has captured the world’s attention. Mysterious murders on railway stations are normally limited to novels or movies. Especially those with devious clues left by an evil killer. Buy a ticket for the Singapore Express today.

Despite the references to Poirot and other well-known murder mystery properties, this train-themed room is very light on narrative, particularly when it comes to ‘figuring out’ the murderer and weapon — let’s just say that the way you arrive at these answers is wholly unrelated to detective work. (It’s also incredibly vulnerable to brute-forcing, alas.) If you can forgive that, however, then you might still be in for a fun ride.

The playing space is small, if set up decently; the decor is haphazard, though with charming touches. It’s the puzzles themselves that make the room worth playing. There’s a good mix of puzzle types and difficulty levels, with small surprises in store — delivered by puzzle-solving rather than room technology. And while the puzzles may not make much in-narrative sense, each individual puzzle is certainly logical from a solving perspective. (The puzzle flow, however, might be a bit head-scratching; our group managed to bypass one puzzle altogether, and you could end up skipping even more.)

Though neither perfect nor even very polished, there was something about Murder on the Singapore Express that left me charmed and satisfied (though it might have helped that I played it after a disappointing room elsewhere..). Despite the low scores below, I’d still say the room is WORTH A TRY — most importantly, don’t expect to be investigating a murder mystery.

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

Atmosphere and setting: 2/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 1.5/5
Storyline integration: 2/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 8
My suggested number of players: 2 to 4. The room might start feeling crowded with more people.

Game review: Murder Mystery SG: Castle Lumiere Nightfall

NOTE: This game was played at the invitation of Murder Mystery SG.

Their description: Castle Lumiere is no ordinary castle. Owned by Baron Quinn Fontaine, it appears to have a ‘magical shield’ that stops and kills anyone who attempts to enter. A dinner meeting is set-up by the Baron you are determined to attend. You know the place is both mysterious and magical. And, although you have no idea who else will be coming, you know that you have to be there!

Murder Mystery SG offers tabletop murder mystery games, similar in format to two of the games at LOST in JB’s Crime Scene branch.

Unlike Xcape’s Shanghai 1943 or LOST in JB’s main case The Tenants Upstairs, Murder Mystery SG’s games do not take place in a real ‘crime scene’ with hands-on searching. Instead, their sit-down games have maps and clue cards. Players take on the roles of suspects and must find the murderer in their midst, investigating the case by spending tokens to look at clue cards. Everyone has individual goals, and everyone is allowed to lie. Interestingly, there is no detective role, so you really can’t be sure whom to trust.

At their invitation, a group of us played one of their cases in December. You have the option of using their premises in Hougang — which we did — or finding/providing your own space.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the case we played is that every character has a fully-developed backstory and secrets to hide, making for a balanced and engrossing experience regardless of which role you get. Individual goals come with points assigned, allowing for a more complex endgame than just whether or not the team succeeds in finding the murderer.

Another interesting mechanic is the use of image-only clue cards, forcing players to analyse evidence for themselves. (LOST in JB, by comparison, has captioned cards, removing a bit of the ambiguity.) It’s possible to miss out crucial details or misinterpret evidence, which adds an additional layer of complexity.

What about the case itself? Not all of us were fans of certain broad case aspects (though I personally didn’t mind). The case solution included some clever elements, but also some questionable aspects. I enjoyed the process of the game, so my overall experience wasn’t that affected by the conclusion; players who focus strongly on the outcome might feel differently.

In conclusion, I’d still prioritise the set-based games Shanghai 1943 and The Tenants Upstairs — but if you’ve played those and are eager for more in the same vein, Murder Mystery SG might be the closest alternative. Some of us are certainly planning to check out their other cases…

(My team had some minor quibbles about production values, but Murder Mystery SG is apparently in the midst of printing an updated version of the game materials.)

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

Their suggested number of players: 5 to 8
My suggested number of players: 7 to 8

Room review: Bearry Potter and the Secret Doors

Their description: As a first year student in the wizarding school, you chanced upon the biography of the legendary Quidditch player Jordan Whittaker, who mysteriously vanished on his way to his secret training grounds decades ago. Tracing his path, you soon discovered that it is a bad idea as you unknowingly entered a maze of Secret Doors..

Lockdown’s new Orchard Gateway outlet takes a novel approach to escape rooms, aided by technology — specifically, a tablet and QR codes. While this might make sense from a business perspective (see fuller comments over at the company review), it arguably dampens the magic, particularly given the theme of this room.

On the plus side, the room still has some magical aspects and fun surprises, with significant amounts of hands-on room interaction in order to solve puzzles and proceed further through the room. The puzzles themselves are faultlessly rigorous and logical (to the extent that one is just a logic puzzle, which I personally don’t enjoy — though that’s more a matter of taste). There’s a sustained attempt at maintaining the theme, and references that might amuse Harry Potter fans.

While I would have liked a stronger hands-on feel (like that of the old Forgotten Temple room, for example), Lockdown’s Bearry Potter room is by no means bad. Although it could have been more magical, it’s certainly WORTH A TRY, or indeed RECOMMENDED if you prize solid, logical puzzles over a detailed setting. The very forgiving hints system (which my team didn’t use) might make it good for beginner teams.

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

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

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

Room review: Virtual Room: Chapter II

Their description: Earth has once again been threatened! Only a few sources of energy capable of combating this plague have been spotted in different periods of time: you have 45 minutes to find them before it is too late!

After enjoying Virtual Room Singapore’s first adventure, we went back to play their recently-launched second game — which turned out to be even cooler and more expansive.

There are five (!) different environments to explore, up from three in the first room, and there’s some movement around within each environment too. What I enjoyed the most, though, was the use of environmental physics in certain non-standard environments. Like the low-gravity stage in the first game, these non-standard environments allow for effects that simply aren’t possible in a traditional non-virtual game.

The puzzling aspect and difficulty have also been ramped up. In the first game, you tended to be doing similar tasks to your teammates; in this sequel, team members are more often in unique situations. Each individual player has more to do in terms of figuring out what they — specifically — need to do. Some of the intuitive leaps required are greater or more complex, and hence more satisfying, while still remaining completely fair.

There’s also a great conclusion to this chapter, which ties together the whole adventure. To say more would be to reveal spoilers, so I’ll just say that… there is more to say.

The only aspect in which the second game loses out to the first, in my opinion, is that there’s a bit less in terms of interesting haptic feedback, due to the different range of tasks. This very minor complaint is possible only because I really enjoyed the haptic feedback of the first game — so in conclusion, make sure you play both games!

As Singapore’s escape room scene continues shrinking with the closure of former companies and branches, Virtual Room Singapore deserves the attention of escape room enthusiasts all the more. While there’s no escaping the heftier price tag, the experience — unique, high-quality, and simply really fun — is worth it. Play the original mission first, then be sure to try the sequel. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Game difficulty: 3.5/5
Game logic: 4/5
Gameplay variation: 4/5

Atmosphere and setting: 4.5/5
Exciting moments, effective use of VR: 4.5/5
Storyline integration: 4/5

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

Room review: VR Escape – Abandoned Mine

Their description: Experience virtual reality escape games with your friends at V-Room Jurong East!
A landslide trapped you inside an abandoned mine as you tried to seek out treasure. Your only hope is to get the old elevator working, find a way to get out quickly because oxygen is running low!

Hosted within Lockdown’s V-Room virtual reality arcade in JCube, Singapore’s first full VR escape room works both as an escape room in its own right and as a VR-enabled adventure — though it might not gain new converts to VR.

The controls and VR experience are a shade less impressive than Virtual Room’s not-really-an-escape-room game — though Lockdown’s offering is much cheaper, at $30 per person for an hour, versus Virtual Room’s $39 (off-peak) or $49 for 45 minutes.

Lockdown’s helmets are decent, allowing for glasses to be worn. The physical limits of VR (players have a small area in which they can physically walk, since the VR headsets are wired up) are cleverly overcome via a teleportation mechanism. Unlike Virtual Room’s game, Abandoned Mine lacks haptic feedback from the controllers, but that doesn’t affect the gameplay too much.

Speaking of which, what about the gameplay? Abandoned Mine was a much larger adventure than I expected, with extensive spaces to explore. There are some ‘traditional’ escape room puzzles, but they’re not remarkable. More interesting is how the room requires you to interact with the environment and use objects; in some ways, this VR room resembles more closely the point-and-click online escape rooms that came before the offline versions. The VR medium also enables some ‘physical’ room aspects and flourishes that would have been hard to include in reality.

Throw in some dramatic moments (within an admittedly under-explained storyline) and an entertaining (if possibly for the wrong reasons) ending, and you have a room that’s RECOMMENDED for the novelty of the experience as well as a decent underlying game — unless you dislike VR, in which case this room might not change your mind.

Puzzle difficulty: 3/5
Puzzle logic: 4/5
Gameplay variation: 3.5/5

Atmosphere and setting: 3.5/5
Exciting moments, effective use of VR: 3/5
Storyline integration: 2.5/5

Their suggested number of players: 2 to 6
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5