If you were around during the dark days of the Cold War, you might remember the unspoken, lingering unease that saturated the world for half a century. You would think that a game set during this time of extreme distrust would focus heavily on relations between the USA and the USSR. If we are honest, Reagan Gorbachev could have easily been based on a generic steroid taking beefcake blasting away thousands of Russians with a machine gun while repelling from a helicopter with a combat knife clenched between his teeth (like almost any 80’s action movie). The reality is quite different and it was comforting to know that I wasn’t rehashing some old arcade game like Metal Slug.

Reagan Gorbachev is set during the period of high tension between two of the world’s superpowers but it comes at it from an angle. We all have expectations of the “good guys” and “bad guys” from that timeframe and it was a pleasant change when I booted up what I expected to be another generic “Russians are bad…. M’kay” game. Instead, Team2Bit have made a game that takes the tension of the time and gives it the Die Hard treatment. During a summit, all of the world leaders are taken hostage by a group of well-equipped terrorists, the only way to escape and save the world is for rivals Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to join forces to save the day.

Reagan Gorbachev has clearly taken inspiration from a number of well-respected titles without giving the impression that it has stolen anything or ripped anyone off. It is no small task to take elements from so many games while keeping its own identity. The top-down perspective and low-resolution aesthetic put me in mind of the original Grand Theft Auto and the cutscenes between levels feels like any number of 80’s arcade games. There’s no shortage of comparisons we could draw but ultimately, Reagan Gorbachev stands as its own game.

Controlling both Reagan and Gorbachev (or play with a friend and share the work), we have to escape the clutch of the evil terrorists and fight our way to freedom. Both characters have a default weapon, Reagan has a Katana (because of course, he has a freaking Katana) and Gorbachev has a KGB poison dart pistol that will take out anyone it hits after a short delay. Most of Reagan Gorbachev seemed to be focused around sneaking through levels trying to take out the enemies quietly and without raising any alarms, although after seeing the completion time of some players on the Leaderboard, I can only assume that the Run and Gun approach would probably work just as well. Controlling our erstwhile political leaders can be a cumbersome task. Movement is controlled by he left thumbstick and aiming is controlled by the right, it’s a simple system but I found if I were carrying a large weapon like a rocket launcher, it would often get stuck on obstacles or trap me in the swiftly closing squash zone of moving platforms. In some later levels, I even had problems with electrocution when I was clear of the hazards. The controls are easy to pick up but sometimes lack the dexterity to navigate treacherous sections of instadeath.

Navigating traps and puzzles feature in most of the levels of Reagan Gorbachev although enemies are the main threat. The gameplay is held together by systematically giving enemies the Hans Gruber treatment (there may be more Die Hard references to come). Enemies can be eliminated by running up behind them, something that has a sick satisfaction to it as Reagan’s katana cuts them down. Enemies can be shot with Gorbachev’s pistol or weapons can be picked up during play, there is a good selection of weapons available: both silenced and non-silenced pistols, Uzi’s, shotguns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and as I said earlier, RPG’s. In keeping with the old-school feel of the game, all it takes for our plucky presidential heroes to die is a single hit. Enemies move so quickly that aiming using the right thumbstick is a Hail Mary unless they are funnelled by a convenient choke point, one of them is likely to get a sneaky shot off and blast your pixellated brains out. Team2Bit obviously knew this was an issue and added a “lock on” button but it will lock onto the nearest enemy. This mechanic can be really awkward to aim at the right enemy trooper who is intent on murder. It’s not a perfect system and at times can be out right broken. I had to replay a level over a dozen times due to my auto aim locking onto an enemy on the other side of a wall while a gaggle of terrorists charged straight at me.

Reagan Gorbachev ‘s level designs are impressive in a minimalistic kind of way, levels can grow to quite a size with enemies, traps and environmental dangers lurking in the dark, just waiting for you to get snared. The goal in each level is to get both world leaders to an air vent so they can move on to the next level. Sometimes this easy sounding task is nearly impossible and needs a combination of semi-random things to happen to pull it off. If an enemy drops an unsilenced pistol at the beginning of a level, it can mean the first time you get into trouble or need a long distance kill, that every enemy on the map will come racing towards the sound of gunfire. There are special levels that shake up the gameplay: getting chased across a bridge by a Tank or trying to advance as an attack helicopter takes shots to blow the living hell out of you was an excellent change of pace from the slow, methodical levels before them.

To add to the diversity, each character can open a specifically coloured door: Reagan can pick locks on red doors and Gorbachev can hack green doors at nearby terminals. Controlling both characters in single-player can get pretty tricky on later levels as the AI of your compatriot has the same sense of self-preservation as a plastic Ficus in an office full of telesales representatives. Unless the enemy runs straight in front of them, the AI won’t do anything to save themselves, I have had my team mate unleash the fury of the assault rifle only for the kickback to knock them into a bottomless pit thus ending that particular session. Playing with a friend is the best way to experience Reagan Gorbachev but be warned, I suspect this is a game that could test even the best friendship with its one hit kills, no checkpoint and sneaky hidden traps that are just waiting to claim their victim.

Reagan Gorbachev is a fun game that stays fresh throughout play, it has a nice learning curve although there are difficulty spikes that can become frustrating. It feels like this game could have been released on an arcade booth decades ago, it fits with its setting but stands up when compared to today’s gameplay expectations. I love the story and setting, I love the thought of Reagan and Gorbachev in this buddy movie take on Die Hard. The cold war is hotting up and it’s time for the big boys to set things right. Yippee Ki Yay!