Encounter: The Apartment [Review]

encounterlogoLocation: Encounter, Jalan Besar, Singapore

Date completed:  September 2016 (2 players). Succeeded escaping!

Creativity: 8.5; Difficulty: 5.5; Atmosphere: 10; Fun: 9.5.

Requirements:

  • Fluent English
  • 2-8 players (we recommend 2-4)
  • At least one person with full mobility

You ever curious to find out what it feels like to be in an Asian horror film? The story of an entire family disappearing from an old Singaporean apartment grips the local media who are most curious and determined to find out more about this mysterious case. This is the circumstance players are thrown into when they enter The Apartment, where they have one hour to find out what happened to the family and avoid their fate.

It does not take long for you to start doubting your own shadow. Bring at least one person who won’t be paralysed by fear. Read more to find out why.

When we made our way to Encounter, the host of venue introduced us to the story surrounding the missing family through a ‘live’ media report from a local reporter, who proceeded to interview the locals at the apartment complex. This simple but effective device placed us directly into the narrative and got us into the mindset of the story before we opened the roller gate of the apartment and crossed the threshold into the unknown.

We weren’t kidding when we suggested that The Apartment is an Asian horror movie experience. Drawing from Singapore’s past, Encounter has convincingly replicated an old public housing apartment, colloquially known there as HDB flats (HDB stands for Housing Development Board – check out how they look like here). These types of public housing became common in the post-World War 2 era and is the source of nostalgia of older times in Singapore. Hong Kong also has very similar apartments from that era, which are typically used as the settings for horror movies.

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Photo: Jennifer Teo Photography

Unlike many escape rooms which seek to build on horror using only a visually dark environment and jump scares, Encounter recreated the building uneasiness that is the hallmark of a good horror film. From everyday items to furniture, The Apartment  was detailed in every aspect of the setting to create an eerily abandoned home. We were impressed by the effort in finding real 1970s and 1980s items, such as sewing kits, calendars and magazines. The sound effects and the story which emerges from the game also had us on edge and had us wondering what exactly happened to the occupants of The Apartment. There were jump scares too, but these were calibrated very carefully and used very sparingly and to great effect. Yes, there were broken toys. Yes, things made strange noises. But there is much, much more.

The interesting aspect of this game is that the sense of eeriness actually increased the difficulty of the game and demonstrates the importance of narrative and setting in an escape room. Although this escape room is composed mainly of tasks which tested players’ ability to search, interpret implied instructions and use some association or basic deductive logic, difficulty will be generated by player’s ability to overcome fear of the unknown. Multilingual players may have an easier ride, and good searchers will prove essential along the adventure.

When analysed independently, none of the tasks in The Apartment were particularly hard and most of them weren’t really puzzles – however they were weird enough to give you the sensation you were playing too much with the unknown… The tasks involve players in activities which relate with the disappeared family and help you reconstruct some of their unnerving last steps. The more you find out, the creepier it gets. There is no gore, but some people (such as Pa) may feel courage being drained from the body.

apartmentIn our opinion, when you have a primal story with a setting and puzzles that match, players are inevitably more drawn into the game, empathise with its protagonists and care more about the stakes or consequence of failure. The effects of this ‘horror film environment’ can affect players down to a physiological level. Increased heartbeat, adrenaline, heightened awareness to noises…. All this could reduce ability to conduct structured thinking and searching. This was evidently clear in our play-through when comparing the difference between Pa (who knew how to complete the tasks but was semi-paralysed by fear) to myself (having an extremely high threshold of tolerance for fear and being able to get past eeriness and scares rather quickly). Some people consider the The Apartment not to be a true escape room because the puzzles and tasks are too easy. We’ll have to disagree with this assessment as we view the impact to clear thinking due to an increased stress environment to be just another way of viewing difficulty.

Horror setting aside, there are plenty of tasks to complete in The Apartment, however the game is very linear. As a result, we wouldn’t recommend bringing a team bigger than five. The apartment could fit the eight player maximum, but having such a large team might mean that some players could find themselves without much to do in certain parts of the game and some of them might even miss key events.

This games also ties directly into a sequel called The Hospital. It was the first we time we had come across a direct sequel being implemented into an escape room and it was very engaging. We really did want to find out more! For a more complete experience, we highly recommend playing The Hospital not too long after The Apartment.  

Go play this escape room if you like Asian horror films and others like The Sixth Sense, The Others or Stranger Things. This gets a solid 10 for atmosphere.

Out of the room

Service: Encounter has lockers for player’s belongings.

NoteSince we published this review, Encounter has increased the cost of The Apartment by $100 Singaporean for a ‘dedicated gamemaster’, a move that we are not fans of. This has made the game very expensive, especially for smaller groups.

Communication: Hints were given through a telephone in the apartment. This fit the setting perfectly and gamemaster was on the ball, monitoring our progress carefully and offering hints when needed.

Surroundings: The closest subway station to this branch of Encounter is Farrer Park, which is about 750m away on foot. The district is heavily commercial so visitors going to Encounter won’t have any issues with finding food at all.

The Apartment has also been reviewed by Escaping.sg and S-capegoats.

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