Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 72 / MAY 1986 / PAGE 60

Borrowed Time

Selby Bateman, Features Editor

Requirements: Commodore 64 or 128; Apple II-series computer with at least 64K RAM; IBM PC with color/graphics adapter and at least 64K RAM; Enhanced Model IBM PCjr; Atari ST-series computer; Commodore Amiga; or an Apple Macintosh. Disk only; color monitor recommended.

Your name's Harlow...Sam Harlow, private eye.
    You're sitting in your office with your feet propped up, trying to figure out how to pay the rent, when the phone rings. "Sam, they want you dead," says a voice at the other end of the line. The voice fades, and you get the funny feeling someone's watching you. Before you know it, people-all kinds of people-are doing more than watching. They're coming after you. And you're living on borrowed time.
    Your secretary, Iris Spencer, has taken a powder; Jerry the bartender freezes when you ask about Farnham; Hawkeye, the blind newspaper vendor, has a tip about Fred Mongo; Dave, who runs the corner hotdog stand, thinks you're trying to pin a hamburger rap on him. He keeps throwing hotdogs at you. And now someone's kidnapped your wife, Rita.
    Life's tough in the big city for a down-in-the-heels gumshoe, and never tougher than in Activision's graphic and-text adventure, Borrowed Time. But you don't have an opportunity to feel sorry for yourself. People keep breaking down your door, running after you in dark alleys, and unloading .38s in your direction. It's up to you, Sam. Find out who's sending all those thugs after you, and quickly. One more thing, Sam. You'd also better find out why.

Fun, Not Frustrating
In Borrowed Time, Activision has created a delightful game environment with the look and feel of those classic hardboiled detective movies and novels. The game is also fun to work with, easier and faster than earlier graphics-and-text games (especially the ST and Amiga versions). Some computer adventures can be frustrating, limiting your options with complex puzzles to such an extent that just leaving a room can take hours of problem-solving. Borrowed Time offers a plot line and puzzles that are intriguing and challenging without demanding that you enroll in a code-breaking class.
    The screen format and game movement are very well executed in Borrowed Time. The screen is divided into six sections: a graphics window showing scenes representing the action described in the text; a scrolling text window along the bottom third of the screen; an inventory window displaying what you're carrying; a compass showing north, south, east, and west; and two lists of words, verbs on the left and nouns on the right.
    Using a joystick or mouse (depending on the computer), you can quickly select the direction you wish to travel, choose verb-noun commands from the lists, and even examine or drop what you're carrying by pressing the mouse or joystick button. Of course, you can still type in all the commands if you'd prefer, and the game's vocabulary is much more extensive than just the couple of dozen words listed on the screen at any one time. With the mouse or joystick, and especially with the fast disk access of computers like the ST, Amiga, and Macintosh, you can travel very rapidly from place to place with a minimum of typing. There is, naturally, much disk access. Depending on the computer, this can be frustratingly slow (Commodore 64 and 1541 disk drive) or amazingly swift (Atari ST).
    Making a map of your travels through the city is almost mandatory. There are many different locations, and an engaging (and often dangerous) cast of characters. You can usually converse with the people you see, some of whom may not always tell you the truth. Just like any good private eye, you'll want to examine everything and watch the different screens for visual clues to help you solve the mystery or escape from tight spots.

Atari ST version of Borrowed Time
The Atari ST version of Borrowed Time
has the best graphics of all.

Life Is Tough
As Sam Harlow, you're prone to meet with a lot of "accidents," resulting in the frequent untimely end of the game. But Activision has provided both a QUICKSAVE and a QUICKLOAD command that helps keep you in the action. If you hear someone pounding on your door, if a shadow suddenly looms behind you, or if there's the quiet click of a hammer being drawn back on a gun, you'd be well advised to use the QUICKSAVE command. Then, should something happen to you, use QUICKLOAD and you're back where you were just before your accident.
    The designers of Borrowed Time obviously had a lot of fun putting the pieces together. There's a sense of humor in the text, and the visuals can be charming. Clothes hanging on a line ripple in the wind, a dog's tail wags and his tongue peeks out as he pants, the telephone receiver bounces in its cradle as it rings, and occasionally a character will glance at you from the corners of his eyes. As bullets whine over your head, your natural inclination may be to type in the command, DUCK!. All you'll get for that is the response, QUACK!.
    In addition to a concise printed explanation of game rules and features, the program also contains a tutorial on the disk which helps first-time players get started. However, so intuitive is the feel of Borrowed Time that you can boot the disk and start to play without knowing anything about the game. The program and the graphics can vary slightly from computer to computer, depending on the differing technical capabilities of various machines. But game play appears to be quite similar throughout.
    You can have a lot of fun with Borrowed Time. Just keep checking over your shoulder, keep moving, and expect the worst.

Borrowed Time
Activision, Inc.
2350 Bayshore Frontage Road
Mountain View, CA 94043
$29-$44 (depending on the version)