As the melodious BRRRAK! of Battle Rifles rings out across the map, I run towards the hill as fast as I can. My shield is gone, my shotgun is empty, and there are only seconds left in the match. After what feels like an eternity, I reach the incline and my shield slowly starts to recharge. I look back and see two red Xs where my teammates were just killed, with not enough time left to respawn. In a fraction of a second, I exchange looks with Sinful_Diddler (my last surviving teammate) and we brace for the worst. I pull out my pistol.
They seem to come out of nowhere — their red armor nothing but a blur as the hill explodes into sound and fury. Sinful_Diddler downs one and finishes off another before I see his own body fall, leaving the last foe to me. After a few well-placed pistol shots, I’m the last player standing on a worthless piece of dirt. My squad wins by a heart-pounding six points. “VICTORY,” the announcer booms, and Blue Team stands above Red Team on the final scoreboard.
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Two Great Tastes
No, this isn’t 2005. No, I’m not sitting in my friend’s basement playing King of the Hill in Halo 2. It’s 2019, and I’m sitting in my dingy apartment playing Splitgate: Arena Warfare.
Splitgate is a free-to-play arena shooter recently launched on Steam. And, as you might guess from that description, it brings a whole heap of nostalgia with it. Heavily inspired by early Halo games, Splitgate actually replicates the feel of 343 Industries’ later entries in the series. Though it adds one brand-new mechanic: portals. Each player has their own portal gun attached at the wrist. Every map features special walls you can attach portals to — much like in, well, Portal. Players (or bullets) can use said gateways to fling between locations. If you think this just sounds like Halo and Portal had a baby… You’re pretty much right. And that’s what makes Splitgate so good.
First things first: The similarities between Splitgate and Halo just can’t be ignored. They’re not identical, mind you, but you could be forgiven for thinking that Splitgate was some sort of Halo spin-off at first glance. Guns, mechanics, cosmetic armor, animations… All of them evoke the venerated series. Even the maps are lifted from Halo history. “Highwind” is basically Lockout with portals; “SAW Stadium” is basically Midship with portals. That’s certainly not a bad thing, though. It shows how well the developer knows the best parts of its source material, as well as its target audience. Splitgate wears its influences on its sleeve without restricting itself to being a mere copy.
The game successfully fuses tried-and-true Halo mechanics with modern FPS sensibilities, creating a beefy hybrid of speed and gunplay with a deliciously high skill ceiling. The old-school requirements of finding weapons on the map — and depleting your opponents’ shields before killing them — might make the game sound slow and methodical. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. An extremely rapid, unlimited sprint and a jetpack for quick traversal make Splitgate just as fast and fun as the best arena shooters in the genre.
However, what really makes Splitgate shine is how it implements portals. They open up a new tactical dimension (ha!) in combat. Maps are designed around close-range combat with a clear focus on flanking and teamwork, which smartly highlights the possibilities portals open up (literally) and motivates players to use them often. A good player can warp around all the hot-spots on a map in seconds, maximizing kills and dodging damage at incredible pace. Coordinated teams can also use portals to excellent effect in objective-based modes like Domination, Capture the Flag, or Oddball — whether that’s planning an ambush on a capture point or placing escape routes for endangered teammates.
That’s a lot to wrap your head around. Thankfully, Splitgate also provides ways to hone your skills without the pressure of playing against humans — and to just mess around with the game’s mechanics. Making a custom lobby lets you play against surprisingly effective bots while giving yourself any weapon you want to train with. And that’s just the beginning. Want to play a match of shotty snipers, like in the good ol’ days? Just tweak the match settings and invite some friends, or make it public and find some randos to play your brilliant, maximum-speed, minimum-gravity game type!
Present Reality vs. Hopeful Future
Speaking of game types, this is actually the main problem with Splitgate in its early days: limited playlist features. At the time of writing, there are only two playlists in ranked mode (free-for-all and team skirmishes) and one playlist in casual mode, involving a small pool of game types on repeat. You also can’t select the individual mode you want to play. That’s a problem when you queue up for another match, only to get Domination on Outpost for the third time in a row. These playlists might be intentionally limited to keep the player base together at launch, but it’s still annoying when you just want to play a nice game of team deathmatch.
Splitgate: Arena Warfare is still an incredibly solid foundation from which to build an even better game. It nails the most timeless elements of the Halo multiplayer formula, while also making those elements feel fresher and faster than ever. The game is slightly sparse on options — not to mention content — at the moment. But with the kind of passion the developers have already shown in their design, and their dedication to the community, I believe things could change in no time. I certainly want them to, for such a fun game.