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Splitgate is the best Halo game since Halo: Reach

Splitgate, the new in-beta free-to-play arena shooter from 1047 Games, is what would happen if you stuck Halo 3 and Portal in a blender. The result is a game where no single mechanic feels completely unique, but they all mix together into a fantastic multiplayer offering, and a much-needed update for a very tired genre.

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Splitgate was originally released in early access in 2019 as a fairly barebones version of the game that never really caught on. However, after two years of updates from 1047 Games, the game is now in open beta on PC and consoles. It’s significantly improved, which players have certainly seemed to notice. And with the recent announcement of its first real content season, it seems like Splitgate is going to stick around this time.

In most ways, Splitgate is a traditional arena shooter. There are no loadouts to customize, no abilities, and no Perks. Every match is just eight players (in most modes), with identical weapons and stats, fighting it out on a relatively small map. The only real modifier that exists in each match are weapons that spawn around the map every minute or so.

Image: 1047 Games

The arena shooter genre, which includes everything from Quake 3 Arena to the Halo series, has fallen out of favor recently, thanks in large part to its lack of innovation. In a post-Call of Duty era, where loadouts, quick kills, and out-of-game progression are all the rage, arena shooters feel old and slow by comparison. Meanwhile, Splitgate makes the genre feel frenetic and elegant with its major addition to the formula: portals.

Like Portal, Splitgate offers players two trans-dimensional warp holes to play with. Just shoot one on a wall and the other somewhere else and you’ve got an instant door between the two. Everyone in the match gets access to the portals, which can only be placed on certain surfaces — which are marked by different colors than anything else in the environment and a unique easy-to-spot texture. Anyone can travel between or shoot through anyone else’s portals, but you can only see through your own. Any two-portal system that was placed by another player will be opaque to you, so you’ll have to shoot or jump into it totally blind.

This mashup runs the risk of being messy, but Splitgate incorporates the magic of Portal seamlessly. In your first few matches, you may not remember to use your portals at all. But the mechanic quickly becomes a natural way to traverse each map. And the more you practice, the more creative uses for the tool will emerge. At the highest levels of play, portals represent a way to create new crossfires, instantly flank enemies, and avoid death when it seems inescapable.

All of this works because Splitgate’s portals feel excellent to use. They fire out quickly and can be closed individually. You can also close enemy portals using the game’s only grenades — which don’t do damage. These extremely simple rules make managing portals easy, but they also leave plenty of room for skill expression.

In an objective mode like Oddball (a name taken directly from Halo), you might collect the ball and hop into a portal that instantly warps you to the other side of the map. Or you might chase a player and think you’re about to catch them, only for them to shoot you in the back while you chase with a cleverly placed portal trap on either end of a hallway. Maybe your opponent narrowly escaped through a portal? Simply shoot in after them and try to finish the kill before they remember to close off their entrance.

Image: 1047 Games

The game’s ten standard maps (so far) feel mostly well-tailored to the portal system. But while they’re great for kill-based modes like Team Deathmatch and Team Swat (another name taken straight from Halo), they can get a little frustrating on objective modes like Oddball, when a player’s clever portals let them reach an impregnable map position. Then again, getting blown out in one game because someone knew a trick you didn’t is part of the fun of arena multiplayer games, especially when matches only average a brisk six or seven minutes in length.

None of this would matter if the shooting in Splitgate didn’t measure up. Thankfully, it’s almost distractingly similar to Halo 3. Splitgate combat feels like how you remember Halo feeling, but modernized with a sense of smoothness and quickness that Halo has never had. Each of the game’s many weapons, like shotguns, sniper rifles, a three-shot battle rifle, and more, are extremely fun to shoot. The guns feel substantial when you fire them, and there’s enough variation that you need to know each one’s unique feel and rhythm to use them effectively.

Fights are long and involved, and even though the game is fast-paced, actually getting a kill (or dying) takes a lot of bullets to accomplish. This gives players plenty of time to outplay an enemy who got the drop on them. Splitgate’s long-range fights are all about strafing and accuracy, while its up-close duels are most often decided by a quick peppering of assault rifle fire and swift use of melee attacks. Both types of fights are a fairly simple loop, but one that never gets boring, no matter how many times you do it.

For all of Splitgate’s mechanical prowess, its cosmetic offerings feel lackluster by today’s standards. If 1047 Games’ intention is to create a blank canvas that will be filled in later with skins — which can be bought from the in-game store, earned through random loot boxes, and through a battle pass — then it will need those skins to be a bit more interesting than the beta offerings (like the weird fish guy that seems to have been removed). So far the game’s weapon and character skins mostly consist of bland recoloring options, but that’s typical of many free-to-play games early on. Some of the skins from the game’s newly announced Season 0 are a step in the right direction … but not a huge step.

None of this is essential yet, but a bit of visual variety helps keep the game interesting beyond its extraordinarily fun mechanics.

Image: 1047 Games

Splitgate is an act of gaming necromancy. It revives the feeling of playing classic Halo in a way no game since Halo 3 has managed. It makes arena shooters into a genre that feels almost modern. And it’s probably the closest thing we’re going to get to a Portal 3 for the foreseeable future. But most importantly, Splitgate is just an extremely fun multiplayer game with outstanding mechanics that make it worth investing time in.

Splitgate is currently in open beta on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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