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A ways back at DreamHack Atlanta, Jason and I got to go hands on with an early alpha build of SplitGate: Arena Warfare. SplitGate looks to bring back the thrill of peak arena shooter Halo 3, and combine it with another hit FPS staple, Portal. This past weekend saw a new, majorly updated closed alpha test, which we both got to go hands on with again and actually get footage this time. So in its current incarnation, how well does it hit the mark?

I’m Colton for and here’s our first look at SplitGate: Arena Warfare.

When I first played SplitGate back in November, Jason and I agreed: it was a good-looking game with a lot of potential. Since then, the game has grown quite a lot. First, the game is quite visually appealing. Most of the stages have a unique layout that’s easy to remember once you’ve played them a couple of times, and the character models themselves look incredibly similar to but legally distinct from certain Spartan armors from Halo. I want to take a moment here to give special praise to the lighting effects. They really help one or two of the stages pop out at you, especially the hyper-neon colors of this stage which I’ve dubbed 90s Laser Tag Rave. There’s one map in particular, however, that feels incredibly generic. This stage is actually the one we played in our first session with the game back in November and honestly it’s as forgettable now as it was then. This is really a shame given that the other stages that have been added since then are so unique and interesting. As an amusing side note, I got loaded into a stage once that was just untextured polygons. I know it’s an alpha test, so that kind of thing has to be expected on some level. I just thought it was weird.

The gunplay in the game is snappy, but damage and hit detection feels a little inconsistent. Sometimes enemies will die in just a couple of shots, and sometimes a whole clip won’t kill them. This issue is at its most obvious when you’re using the assault rifle, the gun you’ll start every match with. The recoil is massive on this thing, and even with precise aim its damage output leaves something to be desired. The shotgun also feels rather weak when compared to its counterparts in other modern shooters, like Halo 5. Even at close range, the shotgun was taking three or four shells to effectively kill someone.

Another thing that makes the combat interesting is part of the game’s namesake, the Portals. Not only can they help you maneuver around the stage quickly for tactical entry and exit strategies, but you can use them to keep your eyes on different parts of the map and effectively shoot at people all the way on the other side of the map. Used properly they can add a whole new dynamic to the game especially if you’re a fan of sniper gameplay. Remembering that the portals exist and that I should be using them took some adjustment though. In Portal, the portal gun is the only projectile weapon you have, so seeing them in a game as a secondary or even tertiary projectile option means that they can get lost in the shuffle for first timers. If I could offer one particular piece of feedback directly to the team, it would be to add a UI element that shows you when you’ve got portals out, sort of how Portal does with its aiming reticle, and remind users with the occasional loading screen tip that using the portals opens up a lot more strategy and nuance in the game, and they should focus on working them into their sessions.

There are a few other minor tweaks that would benefit the game as well. Like in a lot of golden-age FPS games, weapons are scattered around the map in certain spawn locations for players to acquire after a certain amount of time has passed. Unfortunately, they’re incredibly easy to miss if you don’t already know where they are. The timer and label for the guns are in a plain white, 12-point font that is almost invisible if you’re in a fight or trying to move quickly. A better label and possibly a glow or highlight effect (ideally both) would go a long way to making players aware of those valuable weapon drops.

Matchmaking was also a little wonky, in that both Jason and I were matched with teams that were far beyond our own skill level frequently. To try and alleviate this, I decided to get some extra footage from bot matches, which to my surprise, didn’t go well either. Enemy bots seem to have laser precision and always travel in a group. In contrast, I caught bots on my own team standing in place, staring straight down and spinning in place on multiple occasions until they were killed by an enemy. For those who like to use training modes to adjust their controls and sensitivity before jumping into matches, you’ve got your work cut out for you until some adjustments to the AI are made.

You’ll also want to make some adjustments to the sensitivity. The aiming feels a little odd on the default settings. It is incredibly sensitive, but the reticle stops on a dime which can make it feel stuttery in a certain way. I turned the sensitivity down on my client to about 6.75 from the starting value of 10 and that really helped smooth things out. Your mileage in this area may vary, but don’t be afraid to play with the values ‘til it feels right.

There are a lot of big plans moving forward for Splitgate, including the addition of tons of new maps and modes. The mode I’m most excited to see in action is Team SWAT mode, which was recently announced. For those who don’t know, SWAT is a mode that was made popular in Halo in which body shots are useless, and headshots are a near instant kill. Matches in this mode tend to go a lot quicker than their normal counterparts, and are a serious test of skill. I hope that they take another page out of Bungie’s old FPS playbook and add variants of the more interesting modes like Infection, and even a sports-style mode like Griffball.

Overall, SplitGate is a nice feeling game once you tinker with it a bit, and it more or less faithfully recreates the fun of classic multiplayer mainstays like Halo 3, which is fitting because the game’s development team is headed up by a group of high-level Halo players. The game still needs a great deal of polish, but with the direction its headed in, and a decent marketing strategy, SplitGate could really change the landscape of PC shooters. Finally PC gamers will have a modern Halo-style shooter to latch onto. We’ll check back in on SplitGate once it’s had more time to grow and see how it’s coming along.

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