Washington and Moscow are the capitals of the Superpowers, but the cold War is fought at the front: in Eastern Bloc countries like Frobnia and adjacent neutral countries like Litzenburg. In these countries, where all strangers are suspect and all actions observed, paranoia and vulnerability are inescapable. In these countries, innocent travelers get caught in the web of international espionage. This is the setting for Border Zone. Border Zone consists of three chapters. In each chapter, you play a different character (an American businessman, a Western spy, and an Eastern spy) involved in unique puzzles and goals. The chapters take place at different times and at different locations; as a player, you will get the most satisfaction if you play the chapters in order. Border Zone has a built-in clock which drives the story forward. Unlike other Infocom stories, the clock in Border Zone continues to tick even while you stop to think. So if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you can't just sit back and relax. Whether you type in a command or not, characters will move around, events will happen, and the story will proceed.
The only spy game from Infocom, Border Zone is a "compartmentalized" game similar to Shogun, although the chapters don't have to be played in order. The premise is classic spy intrigue that will be familiar to Raymond Chandler fans, centered around an attempt to prevent an important assasination in the fictitious country of Frobnia. In a neat departure from most games, the three chapters are played from different perspectives: in Chapter 1, you play a businessman, who has been given a document with the details of the assassination, and your job is to sneak it out of the country. In Chapter 2, you play the wounded agent who gave the businessman the document, and your goal is to escape from Frobnia. In Chapter 3, you play an American double-agent who must prevent the assassination without blowing his cover.
In another departure for Infocom, all three chapters are played in real-time, i.e. the story will go on without you if you take too much time deciding what to do. While this adds a lot to the game's atmosphere and realism (after all, James Bond himself only has split seconds to evade the bullets), this makes for some very difficult puzzles that you are not likely to solve the first time through. This means that you will have to restore the game several times before figuring out the right sequences of moves. Fortunately, the game's on-line hintbook provides gentle nudges to the right direction, and you can slow down the game's clock by typing SLOW if you find it too frustrating.
Like Plundered Hearts, Border Zone features several different endings in addition to the "optimal" one. Zork creator Marc Blank does a great job of creating an interlocking "big-picture": events in each chapter relate to those in others, and by the time you finish all three, you will gain a complete understanding of the story. Characters are well-developed, and the quality of writing is excellent throughout. Highly recommended for all IF fans, but heed the "Advanced" level on the box-- this isn't an easy game you can finish in one sitting.
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