Even though 2023 has delivered a litany of stellar games that we’re going to be talking about for years to come, it has also had an oddly high number of releases that have attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. From Redfall to The Lord of the Rings: Gollum to, more recently, Skull Island: Rise of Kong, there have been quite a few notable contenders for the ignominious “worst game of 2023” crown, games that have not only failed, but failed so spectacularly that the masses have been forced to sit up and take notice. And I’m afraid to say that another game has just joined that list.
The Walking Dead: Destinies – published by GameMill Entertainment, the same company that also inflicted the aforementioned Skull Island on gaming audiences – is an unequivocal mess. Even the most disastrous of games often have at least some redeeming qualities, but I struggle to find any of them here. On a conceptual level, Destinies has an intriguing premise, but it fails in executing even its most fundamental and basic ideas so spectacularly, it almost doesn’t feel like it’s worth it to talk about how it fumbles the relatively more ambitious ones.
"There have been quite a few notable contenders for the ignominious “worst game of 2023” crown, games that have not only failed, but failed so spectacularly that the masses have been forced to sit up and take notice. And I’m afraid to say that another game has just joined that list."
The Walking Dead: Destinies covers the first three and a half seasons of the once-acclaimed TV show, starting with Rick Grimes waking up from a coma in a hospital that’s been overrun by the undead, and ending with the Governor’s attack on the prison. Its biggest hook is letting you make key decisions during certain points of the story, theoretically allowing you to chart a very different tale from the one that plays out in the show, including completely changing the fates of several characters based on your decisions.
On paper, that’s certainly an intriguing premise, but The Walking Dead: Destinies implements it in the most vapid, uninteresting way possible. Who lives and who dies has little to no impact on how the main story plays out. The important events that happened in the show are going to happen regardless, with some variations from time to time, and by and large, the only thing your decisions will change is the characters that will be present for those events. Even calling what the game does with its central hook the bare minimum would be a charitable description.
It doesn’t help that in virtually every aspect of the storytelling department, The Walking Dead: Destinies keeps falling flat on its face. The vast majority of cutscenes are little more than series of still images with voiceovers, and somehow, even they manage to be horribly awkward and stilted. The voice acting does the game no favours either, with every single character managing to sound embarrassingly awful so consistently that it would almost be impressive if it weren’t so painful to listen to. Meanwhile, across its brief runtime, the game also rushes through the story way too quickly, often cutting out crucial sequences or entire characters who, in the show, were very much part of the main cast. Even for the most dedicated Walking Dead fans, there’s little of value to be found here.
Where the moment-to-moment action is concerned, The Walking Dead: Destinies blends stealth and combat in linear missions, though both those aspects are incredibly barebones. Where stealth is concerned, bugs frequently mar the experience, from enemies being able to see you when they shouldn’t (or not being able to see you when they should) to prompts for stealth kills often only appearing at oddly specific angles. Even when things do work as intended, it’s incredibly easy to cheese enemies and lure them towards you one-by-one from a distance, thanks to which a feeling of repetition quickly sets in.
"Who lives and who dies has little to no impact on how the main story plays out. The important events that happened in the show are going to happen regardless, with some variations from time to time, and by and large, the only thing your decisions will change is the characters that will be present for those events."
Combat isn’t much better either, especially if it’s the melee combat you’re talking about, which is thanks in large part to the game’s oddly stringent implementation of a stamina bar. Even on the default difficulty, taking out a single enemy can fully deplete your stamina, which means you’re forced to distance yourself from your foes and wait a couple of seconds while your stamina recovers before you can move in for the next kill. Rather than allowing you to plow through enemies with different melee weapons, the game forces you to step back after virtually every kill, which, as you might imagine, quickly becomes frustrating. Admittedly, things are a little better where the shooting mechanics are concerned, but the most that can be said about them is that they’re not completely broken and work the way you would expect from any game that has third-person shooting.
But even that tiniest of potential victories isn’t allowed to be a mini-saving grace, because every single combat encounter in The Walking Dead: Destinies feels like an absolute chore. For the most part, the game’s idea of difficulty is to blame for that, because any time it wants to ramp up the challenge, it does so in the cheapest way possible, and just chucks a truckload of enemies at you, which only serves to highlight the game’s moment-to-moment mechanical issues that much more.
Even in a much better game, that sort of difficulty can be frustrating, but here, it almost feels like excessive punishment for a crime you didn’t commit. Simple movement feels awkward and sluggish, not just because the controls are as clunky as they are, but also because of smaller issues that add up to cause frequent frustration, like coming to an abrupt dead stop while running away from a horde of walkers because you touched the geometry of a small object. By throwing a bunch of enemies at you in the name of challenge, the only thing The Walking Dead: Destinies does is blast a bright spotlight on those core issues.
On a visual and technical level, the game is just as much of a mess as it is everywhere else. From the ugliest possible faces I’ve seen in a game in a long, long time to the bland and muddy environments to the choppy and janky animations across the board, The Walking Dead: Destinies feels so technically bankrupt, it would have caught flak for its deficiencies in this area even if it had released twenty years ago. There’s no shortage of glitches either, from entire sections being completely devoid of any enemies when they clearly shouldn’t be to the kind of bugs that can block progress. I don’t want to be too harsh with my criticism here, because clearly, this was a game built on a tiny budget by a small team, and obviously, no one should have been going into it with high expectations anyway, given the fact that the publisher, GameMill Entertainment, isn’t exactly known for putting out the most polished or well-produced games. But looking at what’s on offer here, where not even the bare minimum is being accomplished, I find it difficult to cut the game any kind of slack.
"The Walking Dead: Destinies feels so technically bankrupt, it would have caught flak for its deficiencies in this area even if it had released twenty years ago."
Quite frequently, we hear people wondering how certain games were allowed to get past quality control and be released to world, and though often there’s at least a hint of exaggeration in that notion, in the case of The Walking Dead: Destinies, even that criticism doesn’t fully capture the depths the game sinks to. Somehow, with all of the game’s many, many issues, GameMill Entertainment has the audacity to price it at $50, which should tell you all you need to know about how much the publisher was concerned with delivering a product that was actually fun in even the most superficial way possible.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Intriguing central hook (on paper).
Does absolutely nothing of note with its choice-and-consequence mechanics; Horribly produced and stilted storytelling; Embarrassingly bad voice acting; Clumsy, clunky controls; Stealth and combat are both incredibly janky and frustrating; Cheap approach to difficulty; Looks unbelievably ugly; Plenty of bugs and technical issues.