I may be a student of history, but I often find alternate takes on historical events to be incredibly engaging. From the Nazi-ruling action of Wolfenstein: The New Order to the retro-futuristic apocalypse of the Fallout franchise, there are plenty of unique takes on the history of our world. With so much at stake during the time period, it’s no wonder that the Cold War has frequently been at the center of some of these pieces of fiction. For all of the different takes out there, though, perhaps none have been as odd as the one Team2Bit came up with for Reagan Gorbachev.
Taking place back in 1986, one year following the election of Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan Gorbachev sees the General Secretary of the USSR and President of the United States kidnapped by military extremists. Despite the mutual distrust between the two, the leaders soon recognize that they must work together in order to escape their terrorist captors. As they begin their escape, though, the two learn that there is more at stake than just their personal safety, as failure to stop the mastermind behind their kidnapping will plunge the world into the nuclear holocaust that Reagan and Gorbachev had been trying to avoid.
Reagan Gorbachev has the type of premise where I like the idea of it much more than the execution. The thought of a katana-brandishing Ronald teaming up with a dart gun-wielding Mikhail in order to take down terrorists is an idea I can get behind.
While they could have turned the story into a Bad Dudes-esque tale of teamwork, Team2Bit doesn’t go overboard with the material. It almost feels like they are going for a Leslie Nielsen-style of humor here, where absurd situations are happening, but are played entirely straight. Normally, I wouldn’t mind that, but the idea here is so outlandish that a little more levity would have been nice. Rather than feeling like a funny take on Cold War tension and resolution, the story quickly disappears into nothing.
Considering the violent narrative at the core of the title, it’s not surprising that the gameplay of Reagan Gorbachev is inspired by the hyper-violent Miami Hotline. Utilizing the same top-down shooter approach that Dennaton Games’ opus has, Team2Bit’s effort has the two political leaders sneak around and dispose of enemies in numerous violent ways.
As mentioned before, Regan wields a lethal katana, while Gorbachev uses a poison dart gun to carry out his killings. There are other weapons found in each map as well that both leaders can pick up. Firearms such as assault rifles and silent pistols are great for getting the job done from a safe distance, while the single-shot rocket launcher can be used to knock down walls in order to make escape easier.
With two fascinating figures to choose from, the game is designed around co-operative play. And when you have a friend joining you for the ride, the game can be a blast to play. Teamwork is necessary to survive and advance, yes, but the competition that arises over who can eliminate more enemies helps elevate each level above just a matter of escape. The fact that the title features leaderboards that keep track of how fast a level is finished will only help drive competition further.
Things hit a hitch, though, if you find yourself without a partner. Rather than just having you control either Reagan or Gorbachev, Team2Bit has you control both characters. The right bumper allows you to instantly switch between the two, while holding the left bumper lets the A.I. controlled character follow you.
It’s a simple system, and really one that should work just fine, but the inconsistent A.I. made tackling each small task a huge hassle. Sometimes my partner would have such a desire for blood, that he would open fire on an enemy, even if a door was blocking the way. Other times, though, he would just stand there as a bad guy casually walked up and killed him. It’s frustrating, and almost impossible to deal with by the time you reach the final batch of levels.
Whether you’re going solo or not, though, Reagan Gorbachev still feels incredibly cheap in sections. With the limited view you have with the top-down perspective (you can move the screen forward a little bit with the X button), it’s difficult to see what lies down a long hallway. Even if you can’t see shit, though, that won’t stop the computer from being able to potshot you from a mile away.
I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to not destroy my controller the hundredth time I was picked off by a turret I had no method of stopping. In addition to the expert snipers, there’s also the almost undetectable trap doors and random weapon dropping to contend with.
Considering the title is focusing on two 1980s’ figureheads, it’s only right that the graphics of the game reflect the time period. While not quite NES level, the graphics during the gameplay sections have a colorful 16-bit look to them. Ronald Regan may not look 100% accurate, but by god if the studio didn’t nail 2D Gorbie. The cutscenes, which mostly just consist of sparsely animated faces, fit the game well, too. The soundtrack, meanwhile, almost feels like a throwback, with electronic music providing a solid backing to the intense action.
In spite of the over-the-top idea at its core, Reagan Gorbachev is a largely forgettable experience. The storyline, which, again, features an elderly jellybean enthusiast wielding a samurai sword, is shockingly bland. The bloody action that unfolds over Reagan and Gorbachev’s escape is decent with a friend, but becomes a lesson in frustration if you decide to go it alone. The brain dead A.I. and consistent barrage of cheap deaths make Team2Bit’s adventure a pain in the ass to play through. And with a flimsy storyline setting the action, it’s hard to find any motivation to deal with the trouble.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Surprisingly dull considering the premise, Reagan Gorbachev is a cheap and frustrating adventure that is only worth tackling if you have a friend along for the ride.