Hands-On: Splitgate

Hands-On: Splitgate

by March 29, 2019

Competitive arena shooters are very popular right now. While the genre never really faded away, its popularity has ebbed and flowed in recent years, but the thrill of the multiplayer deathmatch found new life as esports began to explode in popularity. Now, 1047 Games is ready to throw their hat in the ring with Splitgate: Arena Warfare, a modern competitive shooter with its roots in classics from years and console generations past.

The Splitgate team loudly describes this game as “Halo meets Portal,” and it turns out that’s a very accurate description. There are no loadouts, perks, or progression systems; everyone’s on an even footing, and it’s all skill-based. Movement and gunplay feel very much like classic shooters of yore – think Halo 2 – but portals add an entirely new dimension of strategy. You can manage both portals independently, and you can manipulate where they are placed to avoid a firefight you know you’ll lose, or to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies. While familiarizing yourself with the mechanic takes some time, the portals do substantially change how you approach moving around the map, and players who know how they work can make games look really fancy.

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Portals aside, this is a very traditional-feeling FPS. This is not Black Ops 4 or Titanfall 2; Splitgate is explicitly inspired by the feel of classic shooters, chief among them Halo 2 and Halo 3. Movement and aiming closely mimic those old titles, sometimes going to insane degrees to do so; in pursuit of providing better controller support. the development team painstakingly measured the timing of basic movements like turning in Halo 2, and they used those timings to inform how movement functions in Splitgate. It’s not entirely a throwback, though; some modern mechanics like sprinting and a jetpack are along for the ride. Sprinting is not overwhelmingly fast, and it was included by the developers to encourage moving through portals with additional speed. Similarly, jetpacks do not provide much vertical lift, certainly not enough to move between floors of a map; the developers believe that the jetpack is primarily meant to help you save yourself from falling off the map.

So how does all of this work in practice? Splitgate has polished its core mechanics nicely; aiming and movement feel precise and nuanced. Different gun types are obviously present – assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, battle rifles – and fire reasonably satisfyingly. Sadly, the pistol is not incrediblely overpowered, so players hoping for the return of the insane Halo 1 magnum are out of luck. Unfortunately, the booth next to 1047 Games was blasting some very loud music, so I can’t speak to how the game sounds, but the visuals are appropriate for a game like this – detailed enough to look modern, but not so much as to become distracting during gameplay. Ultimately, the mechanics are refined enough for Splitgate to feel like a legitimate contender in the crowded space of competitive shooters; what remains to be seen is if the game can carve out its own identity and gain traction amongst the esports crowd.

Splitgate launches on PC later this year; console support is planned.