Halo meets Portal. It’s exciting marketing to be sure, as it welcomes forward fond memories of favourable titles. But it’s more than just inviting a comparison—it’s an attention grabbing challenge. Mechanically tight, meticulously crafted, and almost endlessly fun, both Halo and Portal hold pretty prestigious positions in the gaming lexicon. Staking its reputation on the comparison is a bold move, but amidst the broad offering of the Battle Royale genre, Splitgate: Arena Warfare might just be on to something.
The concept is simple enough to grasp, Splitgate is an FPS that allows players to create portals around the map. The zones that allow for portals are designated with a light blue grid pattern, and have been precisely placed around the arenas. Grenades don’t hurt other players, but instead are used to dissolve existing portals. In addition to carrying momentum through portals, players are also able to shoot through them to dispatch their opponents. At first I struggled to wrap my brain around the concept. Traditionally speaking, map knowledge generally boils down to the geometry of the space itself. Clean look here, bank grenades off the wall there, where do I grab power weapons—standard, unchanging. But then I started to see how I could use that momentum between space as an exciting movement tool. How I could contest a hill from across the map with just a little bit of creativity, engineering advantages rather than earning them with gunplay. Once I started thinking with portals, once I realized what arena warfare meant, things got way more difficult.
Definitely resembling more recent 343i offerings than what we might now refer to as “classic Halo,” the clearly inspired Splitgate deviates in a manner befitting of an FPS making its debut in 2019. It’s a shooter that mostly does away with the larger sandbox in favour of a concise weapon pool, boiling things down to the deemed essentials. Unlike Halo, the assault rifle felt like it had some significant damage even at range (what looked to me as headshot impact); the battle rifle was able to kill opponents with two headshots, and the pistol had some decent pop to it. Even Splitgate’s shotgun managed to uphold the time honoured tradition of being “powerfully inconsistent,” which sort of set the tone for the gunplay in general. Maybe it was that the game was still in beta, maybe it was the devs pushing patches, maybe it was me being bad at shooters, but the guns often felt lightweight and temperamental. Even the melees felt finicky, I’d often find myself simultaneously confused and surprised by their behaviour. Apart from all the little hiccups I experienced, instances when it seemed as though the pistol refused to fire, and a very peculiar moment that resembled the ghost of Lockout, in which I repeatedly killed a nameless enemy that appeared to be on my team during TDM, I’m inclined to believe that 1047 Games will iron out all the little things in time for tomorrow’s free-to-play launch.
For those able to keep pace and multitask portal placement, Splitgate could very easily be that faster Halo game many have been looking for. I relished the return of timed power weapons, and felt pretty galaxy brain when I started pulling off more interesting angles and maneuvers with my portals. And yet, there was still something oddly unsatisfying. When I disregard the more skin-deep Halo resemblance (team colours, weapon names), Splitgate felt more like a mish-mash of shooters than it did any particular or specific inspiration. Sprinting around two-shoting people with the battle rifle honestly felt more like Call of Duty, and building speed with the jetpacks and portals felt more like a less technical Quake Champions. Rhetorically, it presents an interesting issue: calling out or deriving signature style from notable IPs can arguably make or break an incoming game. It’s the question of how much you want to encourage or sway perception: whether to invite a comparison and push a narrative, or let others label things for you and come by flattering comparisons more organically.
Notably, as discussed on our podcast The Goners, Respawn Entertainment just sort of let it fly with Apex Legends—a smart move considering the press optics of yet another Battle Royale FPS from the developers of Titanfall 2, brought to you by EA. Not the most palatable pitch, which is probably why they opted to pay out high profile streamers and garner attention that way—they let the public draw the comparisons and make the claims for them. Early 2018 we had Battalion 1944, pitching a return to roots of the FPS genre, channeling Call of Duty, fumbling with network issues out of the gate and failing to take root. Then we have examples like Boss Key, a studio with titles like Lawbreakers and Radical Heights ultimately having to dissolve after unsuccessfully pursuing two notable genre trends. The extended open beta served as a bit of a mixed bag, drawing eyes from traditional online outlets and notable fraggers alike. And therein lies my main concern.
Let me be perfectly clear, I enjoyed my time with Splitgate and I’m excited to be returning to the fray as of tomorrow. But I can’t help feeling that the reason I find such difficulty in explaining my thoughts on Splitgate, is because Splitgate is sort of at odds with itself. Halo meets Portal is a fine shorthand to get people interested, and it’s clearly a comparison that 1047 Games feels worthy of highlighting: the game has portals and it has similar gameplay functions that one might find in Halo’s multiplayer. But it also has sprinting, and the ability to generate high speeds to close the gap and escape fights. Their trailer bares a stylistic similarity to that of Battalion 1944 (both contain songs from The Siege’s Boneshaker album), and the in-game armour permutations seem to have this Warframe-esque quality to them. It almost feels like 1047 took a bunch of stuff from a bunch of cool shooters and combined them into their own cool shooter—like a tricky, precarious, spectacular Jenga tower.
Splitgate is fun, and as a fan of FPS games it’s doing it for me. Splitgate has that “easy to pick up but difficult to master” sort of vibe. My mind reels as I consider the possibilities: snipers portal holding objectives, setting up timely rifts to optimize power weapon pick ups, intricate and complex plays rooted in map knowledge and executable strategy. Of course, with a couple of highlight worthy exceptions, I wasn’t pulling off these crazy moves… not just yet anyway. That’s the optimism I’m walking away with having seen Splitgate for what it could be: a well built, fun shooter full of competitive possibility. We’ll see what lies on the other side soon enough.
Image Source: Too Far Gone