Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Certain games strike such a cord that they influence everything, shifting genre popularity and spawning a heap of clones and loving tributes. Splitgate: Arena Warfare is one of those camps and it wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Its deathmatch combat combines the tight shooting of the original Halo games with the portals from Valve’s first-person puzzler. For those who’ve spent hours getting good at either one of these titles, Splitgate provides a grand, thrilling test that round forces you to think on your feet and react to insane situations. And for what it lacks in originality, it mostly makes up for with its core mechanics.
Splitgate is a free-to-play deathmatch game, so there’s little in the way of story or lore to be had. You get power armor, a portal gun, and a jetpack and that’s it. However, at least there is variety in the game modes. Matchmaking will serve up standard deathmatch options alongside Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Domination. There are also a few selections drawn directly from Halo, including straight up Oddball and a spin on Kill Confirmed where you teabag corpses to earn points. A juvenile inclusion for sure, but there’s no denying that the “Teabag Confirmed” mode fits right in with the rest of the Halo-style action.
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Speaking off, if you’ve played Combat Evolved, you’ll be right at home on this battlefield. Your starting assault rifle is a weapon of last resort, and the pistol is a deadly accurate headshot machine. Opponents die in three shots: two to the body and one to the head. There’s a Battle Rifle that works a bit better than the pistol and a Plasma Rifle to upgrade your AR. Power weapons include a rocket launcher, a deadly shotgun, a sniper, and a railgun that charges like the Spartan Laser.
Thanks to the weapon selection and great movement options, playing Splitgate feels like you’re coming home to Hang ’em High. There’s a clear skill gap between players who know how to use this arsenal and those complaining about the pistol in the chat. It’s a shame that the game lacks a more in-depth tutorial to teach players what they’re getting into. The movie that you get upon your first launch shows you how to work portals, but the weapon sandbox requires specific skills to truly keep up. There are bot matches for practice runs, but they’re a little obscured behind custom games. The Steam forums definitely had its fair share of would-be players confused as to where they were.
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Even if you don’t need bot matches to learn the ins and outs of the M6D, you’ll probably need to practice with Splitgate‘s signature movement ability. Portals take a whole new shape when you strip them from a puzzle game and shove them into fast-paced action. So many avenues open up, from flanking people who are chasing you to luring opponents into shotgun traps. Players can only see through portals they place, but they can shoot and move through everyone else’s. There’s even an indicator for when an enemy hides behind an obscured gateway. When you see the flash, you know to start pulling the trigger.
The maps feel fine-tuned to facilitate plenty of interesting portal scenarios, especially the incredible verticality in some spots that highlight the momentum you carry as you warp around. There are some balance issues here and there, especially some of the places you can hide someone holding the Oddball. A team that knows what they’re doing can effectively shut down their opposition using smart positioning and a good sniper. Some would argue that this is just good gameplay, but the unique mechanics of Splitgate can make it difficult for someone going in without teammates to effectively counter an organized group. It’s par for the course when you’re basing your design on something almost 20 years old.
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Gameplay-wise, Splitgate outpaces its humble origins. This is a great foundation to build upon that should attract a good number of players thanks to its low barrier to entry. It’s only when you start looking around that you realize that you’re not playing a big blockbuster. Simply put, a lot of what Splitgate has to offer is pretty generic. Weapons all have a standard design outside of the Battle Rifle, but that’s just a straight rip from Halo. Each map has a distinctive theme, but there are a lot of future lights and buildings that make everything feel samey.
The armor is especially run of the mill, with suits are reminiscent of forgotten also-rans like Section 8 and TimeShift. That’s a shame considering that the entire free-to-play model comes complete with standard Overwatch-style cosmetic loot boxes. It’s just hard to imagine anyone paying for premium currency to unlock 600 variations of a space marine. Even the announcer is a lame booming sports voice, miles away from the unique and menacing calls of Halo‘s Jeff Steitzer.
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Still, considering that it’s free, Splitgate is probably worth your time if you’re into deathmatch games and doubly so if you ever competed in Halo LAN parties back in the days before Xbox Live. The gameplay underneath all the standard trappings is impressively solid. Hopefully, that’s good enough to give the developers time to work on everything else. With just a bit more visual flair, Splitgate: Arena Warfare could jump out and make a name for itself in a crowded market with its solid fundamentals and inventive blend of portals and gunplay.
GameRevolution reviewed Splitgate: Arena Warfare on PC via Steam with a Founder’s Edition code provided by the developer.