There’s a moment during a particularly grueling fourth-season episode of The Walking Dead in which our protagonist, Rick Grimes, is appealing to the humanity of a man holding a samurai sword against a kind, gentle farmer’s throat. Getting more desperate by the second, he says “We can still come back, we’re not too far gone.” We mention this because it seems plausible that a few despairing developers at Brazilian studio Flux Games (Cobra Kai 2: Dojos Rising, Get Over Here) might have said something similar to publisher GameMill before submitting The Walking Dead: Destinies for certification. Unfortunately, the final result is, without question, not only a bad game but comfortably one of the worst premium-priced experiences on Switch.
So what’s it all about then? Well, The Walking Dead: Destinies basically takes the main story beats from the first four seasons of the TV show (well, three and a half — it ends after the ‘Woodbury’ plotline), letting you take on the roles of key characters like Rick Grimes, Shane Walsh, Carol Peletier, Beth Greene, and more. The main twist is that you are periodically presented with choices which may significantly alter the canon plot, usually by swapping someone who had originally checked out in the TV show with a completely different character.
For example, an early scene in the game sees the character T-Dog arguing with the villainous Merle Dixon on the roof of a building in Atlanta. In the show, “Officer Friendly” Rick Grimes diffuses the argument by handcuffing Merle to a nearby pipe. In Destinies, you can follow this route if you wish, or you can diffuse the situation without the use of handcuffs. This results in a cutscene during which Merle purposefully handcuffs T-Dog to the pipe while the others aren’t watching, thus effectively swapping their roles. In essence, then, the story still more or less plays out in the same way, but with slight variations on the participating characters.
It’s a mechanic that will ultimately appeal more to those intimately familiar with the TV series, and on paper at least, it’s an interesting idea. Indeed, seeing the volatile Shane Walsh lead the group through the ‘prison era’ of the show instead of Rick is a jarring change, but one that many passionate fans have often hypothesised as the story took its course. Unfortunately, a good idea needs to be executed well, and nothing — we mean nothing — about The Walking Dead: Destinies has been executed well.
Starting off with the basic gameplay, Destinies mainly has you making your way from point A to point B while defending yourself from attacking Walkers (the IP’s term for zombies) or human survivors. On the odd occasion, you get to partake in specific tasks such as shooting out alarms, switching off generators, or locating specific items, but for the most part, it’s pretty simplistic stuff. Either way, navigating through the environment is nothing but a cruel chore thanks to the dismal visuals.
Huge assets like buildings, trees, and rocks will pop in and out of view as you make your way around locales like Atlanta, Herschel’s Farm, and Woodbury, to the point where it was enough to make us feel slightly nauseated at times. Absolutely nothing has been given the care and attention it deserves, with the vast majority of objects looking as though they’ve only partially loaded their textures. Heck, even the water found in streams or rivers is completely static. It’s absurdly basic.
You might think that such crude visuals would at least result in smooth performance, but don’t expect anything of the sort here. The frames chug along at an unacceptably low rate even during quieter moments, and it’s egregious enough that it directly affects the gameplay; we lost count of the number of times we went to change direction, only to completely overstep the mark because the frame rate suddenly clips along at a pace slower than those damn Walkers. Needless to say, if you thought the performance in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet was iffy, then you might want to brace yourself for something truly catastrophic.
It’s during combat, however, where the game really falls apart. You can defeat enemies via melee attacks or gunfire, but both methods are rife with issues. Melee attacks are widely inconsistent, sometimes downing enemies in one go, and other times requiring about 10 swings of your machete to do any damage. Killing enemies also builds up your adrenaline, after which you can execute a deadly finishing move, but if you’re not pressing the designated button at the exact right time, you’ll do nothing but prompt your character to state “Urgh, I can’t do that,” in the most monotonous tone imaginable.
Gunfire is equally atrocious, and no matter what sensitivity setting we experimented with, we could never find that sweet spot to make aiming feel moderately comfortable. The game is seemingly aware of this, too, defaulting your auto-aim setting onto the highest possible option, meaning you’ll instantly lock onto a Walker’s head the moment you press ‘ZL’. Eventually, we just left it as it was. It made each combat encounter mercifully shorter.
For as bad as the core experience is, everything surrounding it is equally poor: the cutscenes are limited to static images; death sequences are ruined by your character yelling “Ow, I’m hurt!” while a bunch of Walkers feast on their corpse; the sound will cut off if you go into the Switch’s Home screen and back in; the name of the game itself is misspelled in the credits (seriously); subtitles don’t match what’s being uttered in the audio dialogue; the actual voiceovers sound nothing like the characters in the show; Walkers will visibly appear from thin air during horde scenarios; NPCs stroll around carrying invisible weapons; bodies — whether alive or dead — will sometimes simply melt through the floor and into a neverending void. We can’t speak to the constraints of the project from a developmental perspective, but it’s clear that this needed a lot more work to get it to a respectable, releasable state.
Publisher GameMill should be embarrassed at putting out The Walking Dead: Destinies at any price, let alone as a $50 boxed product, and we sincerely hope AMC Networks takes a bit more care in who it entrusts with its IP in the future. There’s absolutely nothing here that has been executed well; it’s a game that is simply rife with technical blunders, terrible production values, and broken mechanics. The only thing keeping Destinies from achieving a lower score is that you can at least play to the end credits, but even those have been fumbled. In a year filled with bonafide classics, Destinies is the worst game we’ve played.