Border Zone
By Infocom
Commodore 64/128

Published in Zzap #35

Border Zone

Behind the Iron Curtain lies a world of espionage, intrigue, devious plots and death, and Infocom's Border Zone takes the player into this atmosphere of spy vs spy with a 'real-time' adventure full of thrills, spills and suspense.

Borderzone is written in three chapters - The Train, The Border and The Assassination - which are played in any order, though the game works best when they're tackled in sequence. Each chapter is played against the clock, which is set to run quickly or slowly to suit the player's nerves.

The Train

Clattering along a wintry landscape in a draughty train compartment, the player is on his way to Vienna via the (fictitious) neutral country of Litzenburg, lulled into a restful doze by the rhythm of the train's movement. But his simple life is suddenly made more interesting when a wounded American spy enters the compartment and hands him a document.

Border Zone

The American explains that he has been discovered by the authorities and must escape the train. He asks that the document be delivered to his contact on the platform of Litzenburg station, confiding that this will help prevent the assessination of a top-ranking American diplomat. His departure is swift and leaves no time for argument, and the player has little choice but to do as he asks.

The essential idea of The Train is to hide all evidence of the meeting with the American spy and of his document, avoid arousing the authorities' suspicions, leave the train without being followed and safely deliver the document to the contact.

The first scenario is a little disappointing - it's quite easy to complete, involving only eight locations, and is over very quickly. The only challenge is remembering to do *everything* to cover one's tracks, such as hiding the film and removing the bloodstain.

The Border

In the second part the player changes character - now you're the injured American spy who left the train rather hurriedly in the first section. The spy finds himself cold and alone near the border, and has to get across without being discovered.

Hampered by tracker dogs, guards and a mysterious group of men in a car, the American has to traverse dark forests, swamps and deep snow before attempting the border crossing. There's also the injury to his left arm and the biting cold to overcome.

This chapter is played in 'fast time', although thankfully it can be slowed down if the pace becomes too hectic (which it does).

Once again, the general idea is to cover your tracks and carefully avoid discovery. But the actual puzzle content is very limited and instant arrests are far too common.

The Assassination

In the third chapter of Borderzone, the player is a third character - a double agent trying to prevent the assassination of the American diplomat while making the KGB think that he's actually planning it. The action takes place in and around Ostnotz square in Litzenburg, packed with security forces. Moving around and exploring the area is dangerous and, once again, great cate must be taken not to arouse suspicion.

Borderzone is unusual in its subject matter, but Infocom implement it very well and succeed in giving the player a feeling of being there. The game comes with those now-expected little extras that Infocom provide with their adventures - a book of matches, a business card, a map and a very amusing phrase book/tourist guide.

However, it's much too easy and I'm not sure that I like the built-in hint system (I prefer invisiclues). Apparently, this is a marketing ploy - the player succumbs to the temptation of reading the hints, quickly finishes the game and soon needs another Infocom product to play! Yet perhaps Infocom are releasing *too many* games, and should sit back on their laurels and come up with some deeper plots.