The Walking Dead: Destinies
Released: November 7th, 2023
Developer: Flux Game Studio
Publisher: GameMill Entertainment
Systems: PC, PS4/5 (reviewed), Switch, Xbox X/S
The taste of Skull Island still lingers bitterly on one’s tongue, yet those fine monsters at GameMill Entertainment have already offered another scrape from the barrel’s bottom. The Walking Dead: Destinies takes the AMC television series and runs it through a thresher to create a hurried and barely coherent cliff notes version.
There is, however, a twist. Dotted throughout this trainwreck of a game are binary choices allowing you to decide the fate of characters in ways that may either follow or deviate from the original story. With this conceit, Destinies manages to make perhaps the most valuable contribution to The Walking Dead as a franchise.
You can kill off Carl Grimes.
You can do it pretty early, too.
Make no mistake, Destinies is a slapdash wankshow - a cheaply cobbled, dysfunctional, embarrassing excuse for a product. It would easily be the worst game of this year if 2023 wasn’t breaking records for the number of stinkers released in a twelve month period.
… but you can kill off Carl.
As someone who petitioned to have The Walking Dead renamed The Maddening Misadventures of a 4-Foot Burden, I have to give Destinies one slight tip of the hat. Hell, you can even choose to murder leading protagonist Rick as part of a boss fight in which he runs around flailing like a headless chicken.
Plot deviations are hilarious in their audacity, but stunning in the poorness of their implementation.
Decisions you make have almost zero story impact, as evidenced by the vagueness of Destinies’ pre-mission plot updates. As an example, one choice results in either The Governor or Merle taking control of the town of Woodbury. Story text, from that point on, only refers to “The Leader of Woodbury” to avoid accounting for your choice. The sheer blatancy of it is remarkable.
My favorite example, however, is a cinematic sequence near the end that featured a few seconds of Rick Grimes fighting in the final battle… hours after I chose to have Shane kill him. They'd simply forgotten to switch his character model out! That’s the level of quality control we’re looking at.
Gameplay is a fucking disaster. You’re told you can choose stealth or action, but the former is regularly impossible thanks to scattershot enemy placement and the later addition of helmets that render sneak attacks impossible. That said, if you upgrade your stealth skills, the zombies (and humans) eventually become so utterly stupid you can often walk in front of them without much hassle.
Also, stealth kills sometimes just don’t work. Any action requiring contextual use of a button is prone to failure due to context icons refusing to show. Even if they do appear, that’s still no guarantee pressing a button will result in anything happening. Sometimes stuff just plain doesn’t work.
Combat is like if someone decided fighting should be shit. It ought not be possible to make it this bad by accident.
For starters, killing a single zombie drains your arbitrary stamina meter to zero, and this remains true for heavier weapons even after full upgrades. Almost everything, from stealth kills to dodges to melee attacks, drains massive amounts of stamina, leaving you with a sluggish heavy swing until it regenerates, which takes far too long. Basically, you can perform maybe two actions of any type before you're useless for several precious seconds.
If a zombie so much as brushes against you, it automatically initiates a grab attack that drains a large chunk of health while you button mash for freedom. Up to four zombies can grab you at any point during this process, extending the time it takes to escape. It’s somehow even more annoying than it sounds.
Should your health drain, you get a limited amount of time to survive without taking another point of damage - success regains a little bit of health, but you’ll be saddled with a debuffing “scar” that limits your actions until you kill two enemies with finishing moves because… reasons?
It’s so stupid.
Fights are a dreary routine. The idea is to hit an enemy until the instakill “stab” icon hovers over its head, which occurs after one or two strikes - the number appears to be random. After a few smacks, you’ll fill an “Adrenaline” meter which allows you to perform an Execution finisher. The most useful aspect of an Execution is that the animation is so long an empty stamina bar refills by the time it’s done.
Disturbingly, combat doesn’t change if you fight humans. You’ll constantly be stabbing them in the head as if they were the undead. The only difference is that humans are way more annoying since they run around in circles and are hard to hit with melee or the awful, randomly autolocking shooting mechanics.
Oh yeah, guns! They’re shit. Ammunition pickups are universal across all guns, but if you change weapons you lose all the ammo you were carrying. A new gun is always treated like a full reset of your resources, because this game is indescribably fucking stupid.
Why couldn’t I find a pair of scissors in the developer credits? So many corners were cut, you’d think they were the MVP.
You’ll play as multiple characters, but they perform identically to the point of saying the same handful one-liners when fighting or picking up items. Despite having only a couple of lines between them, characters yell constantly, and half of the quips are wholly inappropriate for the supposed tone of The Walking Dead. Get used to hearing different voice actors shout "My blood's boiling" again and again.
I can at least say the upgrade system is somewhat inventive… in a “go fuck yourself” sort of way.
Unlockable skills are tied to specific characters, and while they apply universally no matter who you play as, they can only be unlocked if said character is alive and part of your group. If, for example, you choose to let Carl die, his skill tree will close off for the rest of the campaign, though you keep anything you’ve already bought.
This system, while unique, does encourage cynicism when making the choices that Destinies naively thinks you’ll agonize over.
Deciding someone's fate comes down to who has useful skills left to unlock more than anything. Fortunately, many characters only have upgrades tied to specific weapons, which are usually supplied with liberal variety during a level and can therefore be burned, but if you’re not careful, you may lose the skills needed to make stamina and damage less absurdly punishing.
Don’t worry about the narrative impact of any deaths, by the way. As I said earlier, the game is designed to unfold the exact same way no matter what you do, with any deviations from the original plot wallpapered over via shoehorned replacement characters.
Do you want The Governer to end up with an eyepatch and a tank, or Merle to end up with an eyepatch and a tank? The result is functionally the same bloody thing.
Cutscenes, such as they are, consist of static character models pulling hilariously stupid faces while the camera pans around a bit. They remind me of those really bad visual novels on Steam that take default 3D assets and pose them in exactly this same fashion. It’s about what you’d expect from a product clearly rushed together in a matter of months.
There exist clues to suggest Flux Game Studio at least started developing this thing in good faith before deadlines and budgets sealed its fate. Between missions, you visit your survivor camp and resolve conflicts between group members. You can see how that might be interesting, except this gimmick has no relevance. You get some text describing two characters at odds, and choose to side with one of them, but no matter who you favor, they'll just say "Gimme a break" and you're awarded five Skill Points. That's it. One voice line, five Skill Points, zero consequences.
Other than these meaningless conflicts, there's nothing happening at camp. A few bits of dialog if you really want to interact with gormless NPCs, but otherwise these small placid clearings serve as spectral remnants of something doomed to never realize whatever potential had been imagined. At least, that's only if I'm right about the game being developed with any shred of initial integrity. The stink of cynicism hangs thick from any GameMill product, so who can say?
Naturally the game is ugly as all fuck.
Visually dated is putting it lightly, as it looks like a mid-tier Xbox 360 game at best. While the invocation of prior generations to describe graphics is often rooted in utter hyperbole, your humble critic can assert with confidence that this truly does look that dated. When the game opened in a bloodsoaked hospital - abruptly and without any introductory scenes - I immediately thought of SAW: The Videogame. I wish it had been SAW.
I’d say the animation is robotic, but I still own one of those little Saturn robots from the 1980s that have a fake computer screen in their chest and walk with methodical clunkiness - my ancient hunk of animatronic plastic moves with more grace than anything in The Walking Dead: Destinies. As with the overall visual quality, animations feel old fashioned
Many of the voice actors don’t so much as try to impersonate their counterparts from the AMC adaptation, and that’s okay because the artists didn’t make them look alike either. Rick in particular resembles Michael Douglas by way of a confused shop dummy. Carl looks like some generic asset store model. Daryl's facial hair, meanwhile, is like the kind you'd make with one of those "Wooly Willy" pictures full of iron filings.
This coil of shit was pumped out with an obligatory suite of bugs and breakages. Executions performing out of sync between attacker and victim, animations failing to trigger at all, physics going off the rails, the already terrible A.I. becoming confused at the slightest provocation, it's everything you could want from a pile of garbage that nobody wants. Frankly, I'm shocked that in the few hours it took to finish, it only crashed on me once. It did mean I got to watch Carl's funeral again though.
By the way, I must confess I stopped watching The Walking Dead somewhere around Season 3 or something. Carl may very well have grown up into a great and beloved character. I don't know, and I don't really care, before anybody tries to tell me he did. Since this game suddenly just stops shortly after an amusingly anticlimactic boss fight against the world's weakest tank, I can tell you that this game only covers the years Carl spent being an irritating plot derailment masquerading as an irritating plot device.
The Walking Dead: Destinies is miserable to play. It’s awkward, it’s boring, and the only fun to be had is laughing at how tonally dissonant it can be. Admittedly, that dissonance can be pretty funny - I was in genuine hysterics when Rick Grimes got a boss health bar and started popping his revolver while staggering in circles, all to represent a scene from the show that was supposed to be tense and dramatic.
GameMill Entertainment continues its run of rushed, cheap, utterly contemptuous scam jobs. Yet another game where you can see how the developers at one point hoped to make something good until reality hit them in the face, forcing them to spray some vomit onto storefronts and call it a day.
It’s only marginally better than Skull Island: Rise of Kong because I can fucking laugh at it.