How Splitgate Became Gaming’s Latest Surprise Hit

Is Splitgate just another Steam sensation or is there more to this competitive shooter than meets the eye?

Photo: 1047 Games

Over the last month, Splitgate has climbed up the Steam charts and broken nearly all its concurrent player records en-route to becoming one of the most talked-about games of the year. Of course, most conversations about Splitgate currently start with the question “What is Splitgate?”

Well, Splitgate is a free-to-play competitive first-person shooter that combines elements of Halo and Portal. It’s developed by 1047 Games: a studio you’ve probably never heard of before simply because Splitgate is their first project. I’d say that the best way to find out what Splitgate is would be to play it for yourself, but given that the game’s servers have been taking a beating lately, you might be better off doing some outside research.

Why is Splitgate suddenly so popular, though? Well, that’s a much more complicated question, but here are a few reasons why the game has become one of the year’s most fascinating sensations:

Splitgate Has Been Generating a Ton of Twitch/YouTube Buzz

As is typically the case with seemingly sudden sensations in the modern era, much of Splitgate’s recent success can be attributed to its sudden rise in popularity among streamers and content creators. 

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There’s a bit of a chicken and egg effect happening here (which we’ll talk more about in a bit), but it certainly does seem that many people recently became aware of Splitgate because they somehow saw footage of a popular Twitch streamer or YouTuber playing it. The game has spread like wildfire throughout that scene, similar to what we recently saw in the cases of Valheim and Fall Guys. In this particular instance, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Splitgate’s gameplay leads to some incredible highlights that can easily be turned into equally impressive videos. 

Again this part of the equation isn’t unusual (streamers latch on to trendy games all of the time), but the question now is whether or not Splitgate has the staying power of something like Final Fantasy 14 (another game that has grown this year) or whether or not it will ultimately fade away once that shine wears off and people find a new trend. While it’s certainly possible Splitgate will prove to be a flash in the pan, there are reasons to believe that Splitgate might actually retain a sizeable amount of its suddenly growing audience…

Splitgate is a Halo-like Shooter That Fills That Halo Infinite Void

While the “Portal” portion of Splitgate‘s formula tends to steal all of the attention (again, more on that in a bit), it’s actually the game’s Halo-like elements that are arguably the biggest reason why it has grown in popularity recently. 

Splitgate is certainly not a 1:1 copy of Halo, but it’s pretty hard to play the game and not spot the similarities. Elements of Splitgate’s pacing, weapons, visuals, and general style are all clearly designed to tap into Halo’s iconic brand of multiplayer combat. Some of the game’s maps also feel like tributes to Halo’s best levels, which is honestly a great move considering that Halo had some of the best maps in multiplayer FPS history. Splitage even features an announcer who seems to be doing a loving tribute to/impression of Halo’s iconic announcer.

Splitgate’s Halo-like elements would have always found a crowd, but at a time when Halo Infinite’s multiplayer tests recently drew so much positive buzz (and when that game’s final release date remains something of a mystery), it’s easy to understand why there are so many people craving a Halo-like experience.

Splitgate Has Benefited From Years Worth of Improvements

Splitgate was actually first released in 2019 as Splitgate: Arena Warfare, but the fact of the matter is that the original version of the game was more than worthy of its “Early Access” status. While many of those who played it early on recognized its potential, it was more of a curiosity at that time than a fully realized experience. 

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A lot has changed since then, though. Splitgate’s developers have done an excellent job of not only responding to community feedback in the two years since the game’s debut but in finding ways to expand upon its potential and slowly turn it into the experience that its most passionate early fans felt it could eventually be. 

That’s not to say Splitgate is currently where it needs to be (the game is almost always going to need to be rebalanced and its servers are going through a rough time at the moment), but it’s impressive to see how far this game has come in a relatively short amount of time. 

Splitgate’s “Portal” Elements Are Genuinely Exciting and a Great Hook

It feels like people have been talking about a competitive shooter in the style of Portal ever since Valve’s classic puzzle game blew our minds in 2007, but few developers have come close to figuring out how such a complicated system would ever work. That makes it that much easier to assume that Splitgate’s use of a similar concept must be a gimmick. 

That’s not really the case, though. Again, Splitgate’s use of portals as a traversal/combat mechanic isn’t perfect, but it’s honestly shocking how well this mechanic works at the moment despite the fact it could so easily break a competitive game. Splitgate’s maps are intelligently designed to eliminate some of the more obvious instances of teleportation exploitation, and the opportunities those portals create help ensure that most matches feel fresh and distinct. 

More importantly, it’s hard to watch someone play Splitgate without becoming a little curious about what this game is and how it all works. Still, Splitgate‘s portals are more of a genuine hook than a mere gameplay gimmick. 

Splitgate is Surprisingly Accessible

If you do happen to watch someone play a game of Splitgate, you might walk away thinking that the game is too complicated. In reality, though, Splitgate might just be one of the most accessible currently popular competitive shooters. 

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You can absolutely use Splitgate’s portals to pull off some incredible plays, but you can also choose to use Splitgate’s portals for nothing more elaborate than simple traversal and still have a great time with the game. Compared to titles like Apex Legends and Overwatch which pretty much require you to learn multiple characters with unique, situation-based skills, Splitgate really just asks you to consider one additional mechanic that honestly compliments its arena shooter-like gameplay rather well. 

Splitgate is also currently a free-to-play title, which is certainly another one of those qualities that are fairly common among rising stars on the indie game scene. 

Splitgate Has Grown in Poularity as 2021’s Slow Release Schedule Has Everyone Searching For Something New

I almost hesitate to mention this point given that it may make elements of Splitgate’s success seem like a coincidence, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not a coincidence we’re seeing so many smaller and existing games grow in popularity this year. 

It should be very clear by now that 2021’s slow release schedule and numerous delays are a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the many ways that pandemic protocols have slowed down game development. While nobody has been immune to the full effects of the pandemic, it’s also pretty clear at this point that larger studios have been hit especially hard while smaller studios (or lone developers) developing smaller projects who are used to working from home without an office full of resources have been better able to stick to their intended schedules. 

Splitgate isn’t only popular due to a lack of options, but at a time when Triple-A gaming has pretty much been delayed until 2022, this is a great time to give smaller games a shot.

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