Reagan Gorbachev has a premise unlike any other. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev are kidnapped during a peace summit, and must team up to take down the terrorists that captured them and a strange AI hellbent on causing a thermonuclear war. They solve this with neurotoxin, a katana, and lots of bullets from a top down perspective. It’s a concept so simple that it’s hard to find a way to screw it up, yet Reagan Gorbachev manages to find a way.
To put it bluntly, Reagan Gorbachev is not a good game. It is a top down action/stealth shooter with obvious inspirations from the fantastic Hotline Miami, but it takes the formula and scrambles it into a mess. You play as both Reagan and Gorbachev in a Lego-esque co-op system, where you constantly switch between the two politicians to make use of their unique skills. Reagan has a katana and Gorbachev has a gun that shoots neurotoxin-coated darts, but both can pick up and use any weapons dropped by enemies. However, only Reagan can pick locks, and only Gorbachev can hack computer terminals.
This means you will constantly have to switch between the two, and if either one gets hit it’s over. Thankfully they can become comically precise sentries if given weapons, but you can’t always count on them to come out unscathed from a brutal encounter. The game was clearly meant for co-op, but the way the controls work make it simply impractical. You can play with either the keyboard or a controller, and while the controller is awkward, the keyboard is downright unusable for anything more intense than a casual stroll through an emptied level. The idea of one player having to fend for themselves on the keyboard rather than a pinpoint accurate bot doing the work seems more like a handicap than help.
Therefore, you’ll likely find yourself in my position, switching between Reagan and Gorbachev and being pit against all sorts of obstacles. When it’s just the usual melee and firearm-wielding guards, the game’s alright. When you’re thrust against all sorts of level hazards such as moving carts or false floors, Reagan Gorbachev can go into the hair-pullingly frustrating territory. There’s a significant delay before you can start over after each death, and some level layouts aren’t as short as those in Hotline Miami, SUPERHOT, or Super Meat Boy. If you die to a stray bullet – which you will – expect to lose a fair amount of progress before you go back to the grindstone.
Sadly, there’s basically no reason to ever play as Gorbachev. His weapon is nowhere near as reliable, and while he has a very slight speed advantage, I’ve never found it to be anything particularly helpful. Instead, Gorbachev was my backup, being the guy I controlled when Ronnie was busy picking locks or had already reached the end of the level. Enemies may have powerful weapons, but their AI means they will basically just shuffle towards you in a rather crowded arena, making it all too easy to hang back and swing the katana to your heart’s content until everyone is dead. As you can see from the screenshot above, that can get a bit ridiculous at times. The final boss fight is also hilariously broken, basically just coming down to a constant streams of enemies running right into your lead and steel until you can eventually take it down with one rocket. This is the only boss fight in the game.
There was only so long I could stare at the game before it’s strange visual style got to me. I realize art style is very subjective, but I find the game’s sprites to be off-putting, somewhere between Flash animation and SNES sprites. Everyone’s far too round to be distinct, and it all looks very bland. Thankfully, cutscenes have some genuinely great pixel art headshots of our protagonists, but the quality there just makes the lackluster sprites of levels stand out so much more.
Everything in Reagan Gorbachev lacks any real impact, making the frequent bloodshed just feel empty. The sprites crumble and a small puddle appears around them, and that’s it. Unlike Hotline Miami there’s not a lot of punch to attacks, and the most feedback you get is a horrendously misplaced ‘thwack’. While most of the game’s tracks also fall under the game’s overall category of ‘forgettable’, a few songs here and there are admittedly catchy.
All of these factors combine to make one unsatisfying experience. Every time I died, I found myself wanting to quit the game and just do anything else. There is nothing to keep you going, besides the fact that knowing that with every level conquered, the end draws closer. When the mid-level trivia sessions on Reagan and Gorbachev is more entertaining than the main gameplay, then you know there’s a serious problem.
Reagan Gorbachev was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by the developer.
Reagan Gorbachev is a deeply flawed game with nothing but a creative premise going for it.