In a modern gaming landscape where everyone is trying to strike gold with “the next big thing,” arena shooter Splitgate is scoring major wins by taking us back to basics with a tried-and-true formula — vintage Bungie-era Halo — blended with the high-octane gameplay from Valve’s cult-classic Portal series.
Two years ago, 1047 Games set out to build a flagship shooter. The devs collected a healthy pile of inspiration from Halo and Unreal Tournament, and added a beautiful dash of spice via Portal’s mind-boggling warp tunnels.
The marriage is a high-octane success for Splitgate, despite the in-beta game drawing heavily on the classics of the past. Halo-styled maps and weapons blend perfectly with modern gunplay, adding Portals gives the game a sky-high skill ceiling, and a level playing field is a breath of fresh air in a landscape dominated by Call of Duty releases and ability-heavy battle royales.
1047 Games have hit a modern winner by portalling all the way back to the 2000s to learn from the classics, without feeling like just another Quake clone.
Splitgate — Key Details
- Price: Free!
- Developers: 1047 Games
- Release date: TBA (indefinitely in beta)
- Platforms: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One
Splitgate takes up Halo, Quake banner
It would be remiss of me to talk about Splitgate and its explosive popularity without briefly talking about its once-titanic genre: arena shooters.
Once upon a time, these kinds of FPS titles reigned supreme.
Many veteran gamers would argue franchises like Quake and Halo were the original forerunners for Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty, and the giants of the modern gaming scene. However, the last decade has seen character-focused titles like Overwatch and the battle royale genre claim the FPS throne.
It wasn’t so much a hostile takeover so much as an accidental abdication either. Unreal Tournament and Quake have had one PvP release between them since 2007 and Halo has been misfiring since Bungie left to develop Destiny. On top of that, the growing supremacy of preeminent juggernaut Call of Duty also saw a shift in development for many gaming studios; everyone wanted in on the Activision billions, whether it really worked or not.
And so, until recently, the once-great “arena shooter” genre became more of a relic of the gaming past, abandoned for modern versions of FPS titles. Unreal, Quake, and Halo were left behind by breakneck FPS entries.
Until now — enter free-to-play Splitgate.
Back to basics: Splitgate’s simplicity its big win
Splitgate does something those old arena shooters like Halo and Quake never really managed: innovation. Unlike other modern titles like Call of Duty, there’s no loadouts, perks, or character abilities like Overwatch and Apex Legends.
That isn’t a failure for Splitgate, however.
In most game modes — and there are many favorites here — you’re armed with two weapons off-spawn, usually an Assault Rifle or Battle Rifle, both of which are very similar to Halo’s iconic UNSC guns. Also like Halo (get used to that), there are power weapons littered around the map, including classics like the rocket launcher, sniper rifle, shotgun, as well as the “BFB” (a big bat), and more.
Having played Splitgate and Halo Infinite’s tech beta within weeks of each other, it’s clear one is drawing on vintage Halo in the best way, and it isn’t 343 Industries.
This “back to basics” approach from 1047 Games is where Spitgate thrives. So often in modern gaming, there’s a best loadout, a stronger character pick (whether it be Champion/Legend/Hero/Operator) that you have to play if you want to win, and Splitgate gracefully dodges that by dropping its nameless futuristic characters into battle with identical arsenals.
Winning player-vs-player duels and the title’s six or seven-minute-long matches felt all the more rewarding for this reason, and losing doesn’t feel so bad. I took a break from Splitgate at one stage to play Apex Legends with friends, and it took me a little less than five minutes to complain about a Seer tearing from my battle royale squad. I was having a smidge of rage about Respawn’s newest Legend when I realized it was the first time in four hours (all spent on Splitgate before that) that I’d truly whinged about being beaten.
The level playing field makes everything feel earned.
When a Splitgate player on the enemy team pulled off a jaw-dropping triple kill on my team later that same evening, I was only impressed. In another match, on Oasis, I watched a beta veteran journey through seven — 7! — portals on his way to a team wipe. It ended the Shotty-Snipers game we were playing, against us, of course, and it was beautiful. It made me want game-winning kill cams (which have, thankfully, since been added in an Aug. 27 update).
Which brings us to the biggest innovation that makes Splitgate feel like nothing that’s come before, even as it draws from Halo, Quake, and more: its arena portals.
Splitgate is shining with Portals (sorry)
If you’ve ever played Portal, you’ll already be familiar with Splitgate’s franchise feature, down to its blue-yellow stylings, and how the physics works.
What’s new, however, is the combat that comes with it.
In Portal, it’s all about using the portals to solve puzzles, dodge turrets, and traverse massive rooms. Here, the Splitgate portals are another tool in your arsenal for destruction. The maps are all standard fare, and you’ll even see straight Halo rips like “Silo Club” (a near-perfect copy of Reach’s Sword Base), but their genius shines when you add the extra element of portals.
The portals fire quickly, the controls are intuitive — when I could remember if ‘right’ was yellow or blue — and they’re not game-warping. Sure, if you can use them at speed they can create strong players, but the game’s portal-canceling grenades (which do no damage) mean there are ways to counter even the strongest portal spots across the game’s 10 maps.
The extra dimension adds to the Splitgate-flavoured fun.
Storming a room in most shooters is just a matter of picking which door you’re going to charge down. In Splitgate, you’re afforded the option to open holes in the wall wherever you can find the portal surfaces, and they’re added to the level in appropriate smatterings. These high-reaching areas, or small squares, are an instant counter to camping, and give you the tools to sprint around the map at high speed, zipping from dimension to dimension, out of the wall, floor, or roof. All while fighting, of course.
1047 Games does a great job limiting portals too, via the aforementioned canceling grenades and portal surfaces. They never feel too powerful, but at the same time, you can feel like a big-brained genius as you dip and duck from room to room.
Bring it all together — modern gunplay, high-octane portals, a pinch of nostalgia, and 1047’s clear love for the genre — and Splitgate emerges a mind-boggling success.
Splitgate is a breath of fresh air in a modern gaming scene that had all but forgotten the iconic arena shooters of the past 20 years. Gone are the abilities, classes, and loadouts. It’s just pure, all-out gunplay at its best, with a bit of reality-breaking too.
There is the ever-present elephant in the room that is how similar many of Splitgate’s features, maps, and weapons are to the Halo franchise — playing Oddball on Club Silo with your Assault Rifle and futuristic helmeted character basically feels like something straight out of late 2010 — but that’s not a bad thing either.
In fact, we think Splitgate beats Halo at its own game.
If you’ve got an FPS itch that iconic classics like Halo, Unreal, and Quake have left you with for years, then get your portal gloves on: Splitgate does it all, and more.
Oh, and did we mention there’s a “Teabag Confirmed” mode?