As good as Halo Infinite is looking, it has a problem. Splitgate does the same brand of gunplay just as well, and it’s got portals.
The Halo-inspired arena shooter has been floating around Steam since May 2019, but after a decent opening the game was relatively dormant until the open beta launched with crossplay in late July. The full release was delayed to add more server capacity, but that’s a good thing because Splitgate is absolutely brilliant.
The basic pitch is pretty simple. Splitgate, out today on PC, PS4/PS5 and Xbox/Xbox Series S and X, is an arena shooter, one that aims to keep people engaged by constantly rotating through a huge mix of modes. There’s straightforward options like Team Deathmatch, or Team Shotty Snipers, which is just TDM but everyone is equipped with a shotgun and a sniper rifle.
Other modes include VIP, where two teams have a VIP each. You get points only for killing the VIPs, who have double health to make up for not being able to cast portals. There’s a mode with a disco ball, which is basically like a more mobile domination or hardpoint. Team SWAT is a mode with battle rifles and pistols, where headshots are insta-kills. There’s the usual free-for-all, 2v2, capture the flag, solo and instagib offerings. There’s also Teabag Confirmed, where players only get points for teabagging the enemy, and a new Contamination mode. In Contamination, a team of infected players starts with melee weapons while the others are equipped with shotguns, with the match ending when time runs out or when everyone is appropriately zombified.
It’s basically harking back to the days of casual Halo. Except you can cast portals all over the map — and you can see and shoot enemies through them.
You can jump/run through ally portals and enemy portals, although you’ll only be able to see through your own. (You can still blindly spam through enemy portals, however.)
There’s some obvious technical wizardry involved in making a game that effectively renders two different sides of the map on your screen without dropping a beat. But the execution opens so many doors that it’s kind of surprising that another developer hasn’t done this before. In the GIF above, you can see the moment in my head where it clicks. The first enemy goes down, and I run out of ammo to shoot the second, only for me to realise — wait, I can just teleport above them and finish the job.
That simple thought process completely changes the way you think about shooters like this. It creates an awful lot of chaos, for sure, although all players are equipped with an EMP grenade that will close enemy portals on contact.
Even still, the sheer amount of possible angles is staggering. Just imagine how the other player felt watching this on the killcam:
I’ve effectively opened a portal to cover the ground underneath me, which I’ve then used to pick off a player a hundred miles away.
And the portals aren’t just for great tactics. It’s almost tailor made for clippable moments like this that draw people into a game:
If you’re wondering whether this seems a bit unbalanced, just remember: there’s massive pathways underneath and to the sides. People don’t have to charge out into the open as soon as a match starts, after all.
What makes all of this stick is just how fast casual matches of Splitgate are — typically 8 minutes a piece. It’s fast enough that if you don’t start to resent a map you don’t like, an uncoordinated team or a mode you don’t jive with. It’s basically tailor made to keep people playing round after round, throwing enough variety between the maps, modes, and post-game rewards to keep people engaged.
Splitgate is probably the best attempt I’ve seen in years to revive the arena shooter format, outside of the annual Call of Duty releases. COD and Halo have a natural advantage in that they’re relying on inbuilt audiences, fans who will flock or return to the game regardless because that’s their comfort food.
Plenty of developers have tried to make arena shooters stick, but to absolutely no success. Look at the quick deaths of Rocket Arena, the Xbox exclusive Bleeding Edge or even the failure of Quake Champions to find a significant audience. It usually takes a theme or some kind of special hook — like the humans vs shark motif in Depth from a few years ago — and even then, a lot of those games lose steam pretty quickly.
Splitgate has the best chance of staying the course: it’s free, the gunplay is excellent, and it has a mechanic that actually fundamentally changes how you experience these kinds of games. I’m glad the developers delayed its release long enough to sort out the servers — that’s probably the only thing that seems like it’d stop Splitgate from being a massive success. It’s already got solid, functioning crossplay, plenty of maps, over 15 modes and custom lobby support. It’s not a AAA title, but it sure as hell plays like one.
This post has been updated following Splitgate’s full launch on PC and consoles today.