Splitgate is a love letter to the classic arena shooters in gaming - with a shockingly fun twist that separates it from its inspirations
Despite being available in early access on Steam since 2019, Splitgate has burst onto the free-to-play shooter scene recently with the launch of its beta across PC, Xbox, and Playstation platforms.
Unlike the majority of F2P shooters currently on the market, Splitgate is an arena shooter through and through and is based on a simple-yet-brilliant premise - what if you combined Halo with Portal?
Rather than paving its path as an entirely unique experience, Splitgate instead heavily borrows from its inspirations and is all the better for it - if you've played Halo, you'll immediately feel right at home.
The weapons have all been lifted straight out of the Halo universe and injected into the futuristic neon-infused world of Splitgate, from the satisfyingly hefty assault rifle to the iconic rocket launcher and the classic battle rifle.
Many of its maps and modes are similarly "inspired" by classic Halo battlegrounds and gametypes, though you'll also find other arena shooters represented such as maps based on Unreal Tournament arenas, modes like Gun Game and Domination made famous by Call of Duty, and the BFB (or Big Fun Bat), a clear nod to Doom's classic BFG that is essentially a metal baseball bat infused with the power of Halo's gravity hammer.
The combat is likewise very Halo - which definitely isn't a bad thing. Guns are perfectly responsive and feel great to use, melee is very effective in close range, and teamwork is essential when facing off against skilled players.
Jumping is aided by a jetpack that can boost players up to higher platforms, but is smartly limited both in speed and amount of thrust available to avoid it making vertically-inclined players overpowered or harder to hit - in fact, while getting up high can give you the advantage of surprise over an enemy, the limited mobility once airborne creates a fine risk-reward balance that will make one think twice before jetting into the middle of the fray.
But Splitgate isn't just a re-skinned Halo clone with a few minor tweaks - Halo's core arena combat loop consists of guns, grenades, and melee, but here, the grenades are swapped with portals that completely change the way this shooter plays.
If you've played the classic puzzler Portal you'll know how said portals work, and there is no difference here - clearly designated portal walls are laid out around each map that you can shoot your portals onto, effectively becoming a linked tunnel once you have two portals placed. One button is mapped to a portal of one colour, another button to a second colour, meaning you can replace a portal with ease while keeping the other you'd like to keep in place.
The gameplay implications are immediately clear - nearly dead and want to escape your assailants? Jump through a smartly placed portal to instantly put you halfway across the map and out of harm's way. See a sniper dominating the field from above? Place a portal behind him and fight him up close and personal.
Just like in Portal, you can see what's on the other side of your linked portals, and in Splitgate, just like you can run through your portal to get to the other side, your bullets can travel through just the same. This presents great offensive capabilities and with clever portal placement, you can effectively surveil the area around you in addition to the area linked to your portal.
Perfectly Balanced, As All Things Should Be
Of course, an arena shooter isn't much fun if it isn't balanced, and Splitgate does a great job of keeping the playing field even.
While you can't see through your enemies' or friendly portals, you can travel and shoot through them just the same, so depending on your placement and awareness of your portals, they can easily become a double-edged sword.
You can close one of your own portals at any time with a hit of the d-pad, perfect for preventing an enemy from following you after you make a quick portal escape, or you start getting shot by whoever's on the other side of your portal. More importantly however, every player is equipped with two EMP grenades that can be thrown to seal any enemy portals they hit, the perfect weapon for foiling a retreat or stopping a player from getting to an advantageous position.
The portals add a ton of complexity to the classic arena shooter formula and despite being easy-to-use and intuitive, mastering their use in combat takes time and skilled players can pull off incredibly impressive manoeuvres. There's also plenty of opportunity for setting traps, and perhaps most hilariously, on some maps you can also place a portal in places that will have anyone unfortunate enough to go through it falling to their embarassing demise.
Splitgate features plenty of classic game types like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Domination, Shotty-Snipers, Oddball, and SWAT, as well as some round-based modes with smaller maps clearly inspired by Halo 5's Breakout - though none of the modes are unique by themselves, the addition of portals makes every mode play very differently than in other shooters, giving players a massively expanded playbook to work with.
Smartly, there's also a single-player Race mode which tasks players with collecting orbs around each map in a time trial. For those that want to learn how to master portals, it's an incredibly useful tool as getting anywhere near a respectable time requires skilled use of the portal mechanics.
Halo players will likely want to jump right into competition as soon as they complete the simple tutorial, but Splitgate also offers a training ground where you can test weaponry, the afforementioned races for mastering portals, and a robust custom games suite that includes the ability to play against bots if you'd like to practice before facing real opposition.
Both casual and ranked playlists are included, though it seems odd that many of the gametypes are locked behind a level requirement (it should only take you a few hours to unlock those extra modes, along with the ability to matchmake for only certain modes instead of putting you into any of the available playlists). Understandably, ranked matches need to be unlocked by leveling up, but thankfully matchmaking for all playlists has been incredibly smooth and quick for the entirety of my playtime during the beta regardless of what mode I was looking for.
Though the game is still currently awaiting its "official" launch, Splitgate is available in its entirety now and thankfully, the hiccups it encountered when it first went online have already been resolved.
When Splitgate's beta opened a few short weeks ago, servers were overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of players trying to play the game - something the dev team consisting of just four people were clearly not expecting. They quickly implemented a queue system and thanks to additional investments increased server capacity, but wait times to get into the game were regularly over an hour.
Thankfully, queue times have virtually been eliminated now and since then I haven't experienced any issues finding games nor has there been any noticeable lag or problems in any of the games I've played, which is quite impressive considering the extremely small dev team. It's a shockingly polished game that puts many AAA releases to shame in terms of quality control.
Unfortunately, with Halo Infinite arriving in just a few months alongside other major shooters like Battlefield 2042, Splitgate's sudden popularity may take a sizeable hit especially considering Halo's multiplayer model is following a similar free-to-play model. The fact that Splitgate is available on Playstation however (especially since crossplay is enabled) may very well keep the community alive, and hopefully it does as it's an excellent shooter worthy of success.
As a free-to-play game, Splitgate features a Battle Pass and a cosmetic store - in keeping with proper arena shooter rules, players are all on an even footing in every match, meaning Splitgate's paid content is exclusively for cosmetic items that have no impact on actual gameplay.
Personally, I've never understood the appeal of paying for cosmetic items in videogames, but it's clear there's a large market out there that is interested and if it gives me more games to play for free, that's fine by me - for a game that's as fun as Splitgate, I'll even buy a Battle Pass just to show my appreciation to the developers.
That being said, there's lots of free cosmetics to unlock as well for players that don't want to shell out any cash. Plenty of weapon skins can be earned simply by accomplishing feats with those weapons, and daily and weekly rewards for consistently playing can also reward you with a loot box that gives you a random cosmetic for your character, from different emotes and portal effects to custom armour sets and exotic jetpacks.
You can also of course pay for premium cosmetics in the store, or buy a season's Battle Pass to unlock rewards as you play and level up during the season.
The beta featured a free Battle Pass that was 15 levels and offered an assortment of items as well as some Splitcoin, the currency used to purchase cosmetics and Battle Passes in the game - the Battle Pass featured when the game officially launches is set to have 100 levels of rewards for 950 Splitcoins (about $10 US/$13 CAD) which is the standard for F2P shooters, and as an added bonus, you can earn Splitcoin simply by leveling up the Battle Pass.
Like in other games using the Battle Pass model, there are also free rewards that can be unlocked by players during the season even if they don't purchase the Battle Pass, and if you decide to purchase the pass later on, any rewards you've already passed will instantly unlock.
Play enough of the game, and you very well may be able to get the next season's Battle Pass without having to pay another dime (or you can use those coins to purchase other cosmetics instead).
Splitgate may not be the most original game out there, but what it does, it does extremely well and most importantly, it's just damn fun. If playing a crossover between Halo and Portal sounds appealing to you, or you just like playing multiplayer shooters, you owe it to yourself to give Splitgate a try now - the fact that it's entirely free means you have no excuse not to dive in and give it a go.
+Extremely polished and fully-featured multiplayer shooter
+Addictive fast-paced gameplay and shooting mechanics
+Portals separate Splitgate from any other shooter on the market and add a versatile and fun mechanic to what is essentially the Halo formula
+Impressive assortment of maps and modes, even if they are heavily "inspired" by other games
+Excellent sound design and visuals
-Borrows quite heavily and obviously from Halo
The Final Score: 9 / 10