ESCAPE rooms, as we know them, typically feature groups of people locked in a room acting out a scenario which requires them to solve puzzles to free themselves.
In a move to bring this fantasy game into a larger arena, part of Haw Par Villa will be turned into a massive "stage" featuring its famously scary statues as props and actors playing Chinese folklore characters.
Titled Journey to the End and Back, the pop-up event takes place over the next two Saturdays and is a collaboration between escape game company Lockdown Singapore, and Journeys Pte Ltd - a local tour operator which manages and operates Haw Par Villa.
It is a large-scale version of the conventional escape game, and a maximum of 60 players (in teams of four and six) will take part in each of the eight sessions spread across the two days.
Lockdown Singapore's founder Jonathan Ye, 32, explains that this version of the game goes big on the storytelling aspect as it centres around "the Chinese folklore that involves the 10 courts of hell".
"It talks about how, when people pass away, their soul goes through the different courts to assess their sins in their life before they go for reincarnation," he says.
The premise of the game is that players are on a school excursion to Haw Par Villa, when one of their friends suddenly faints.
It turns out that he was mistakenly scheduled for early reincarnation (and death).
So after a "Taoist master" opens players' eyes to see the spirit world, they have to explore the park and solve puzzles within the hour to save their friend's life.
Says Mr Ye: "When you play in one of our Lockdown rooms, everything is built by us and designed specifically for the game. But at Haw Par Villa, the whole area is our game zone.
The sculptures there have years of heritage, so we are just using them as part of the story while educating players on their history."
Another difference he highlights is the size of the arena, which is why gamemasters will be scattered around the park to play "roaming spirits" and act as guides.
They aren't meant to scare players, however, as most Lockdown games tend to eschew a horror element, assures Mr Ye.
Interestingly, he got the idea for this large-scale game at Haw Par Villa last year, when he was scouting for a heritage-rich venue to organise a special-edition escape event for Halloween.
"We looked at locations like the National Museum and Fort Canning Park, and Haw Par Villa naturally came up. We felt it was the best option especially since it has long been forgotten and it would be exciting to give people a reason to go back to it," Mr Ye says.
In fact, if the upcoming event proves a success, there's a chance that more such games will take place at Haw Par Villa, as various sections of the theme park reopen after ongoing renovations.
Says Mr Ye: "This game is taking place in only about a quarter of the entire park, and STB (Singapore Tourism Board) said they will probably open another section by the end of this year. Hopefully, after this event, we will be able to do a series of games each time a new zone opens up, to generate more awareness and get people to start visiting Haw Par Villa again.
"These two weekends are like a test for us, because STB is hoping to be able to sell Singapore as a unique destination with such events at our attractions. Haw Par Villa is just the first step."
Journey to the End and Back takes place on May 14 and 21, at Haw Par Villa. Timeslots are 1.30pm, 3.15pm, 5pm and 7pm, and last 60 minutes each. Tickets cost S$25 per person, and can be purchased at http://hawpar140516.peatix.com or http://hawpar210516.peatix.com
This article was first published on May 13, 2016.
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