Splitgate was never supposed to be this big. The free-to-play shooter that feels like a Halo 3 and Portal collaboration was launched with the hopes that it would eventually get a few thousand concurrent players, so its unexpected growth was "crazy," says CEO and cofounder of 1047 Games Ian Proul.
Now, with Splitgate an established presence on the shooter scene, 1047 Games has set its sights on AAA titles like Fortnite and Halo Infinite. Splitgate Season 1 is "step one of the process of turning it from an indie game into a true AAA behemoth," Proul continues. That includes massive visual improvements, a brand new battle pass, fresh game modes, and a map creator that might rival Halo's Forge.
After seeing everything 1047 had to show during a recent Splitgate Beta Season 1 preview, it certainly feels like Splitgate is on the precipice of AAA-dom. But can a game that was never meant to be this big successfully grow to compete with the likes of Halo Infinite and Apex Legends? We'll just have to wait and see.
Splitgate is so successful because it brilliantly marries the feel of two very good games in a way that's shockingly never been done before. The gunplay and movement mechanics of Halo 3 fit so well with Portal-style portals that Splitgate feels like the gaming equivalent of a charcuterie board: meat and cheese meeting in perfect harmony.
Splitgate is a prime example of the power of a well-made yet simple F2P title – I couldn't tell you a damn thing about the game world's lore, or why I'm fighting in arenas with crowds cheering me on, but I don't care about that. I care about how the movement feels (good), how the guns shoot (great), and how novel this game is compared to the other high-profile F2P shooters (very).
That's why it's not shocking that once whispers of a new F2P shooter with familiar mechanics started spreading, it wasn't long before the game went viral. This led to widespread server issues, with 1047 Games unable to accommodate the surge of interest, leading to a push back of the official launch "for the foreseeable future" – originally set for August 2021 – so the team could work on scaling. And not just in-game, but outside of it; the studio went from just a few employees to a 50-person team, with many hired in just the last few months.
You need a big team to do big things, and Proul and the others at 1047 have some grand ideas for Splitgate. That includes pushing the limits of their art style by establishing a clearer Splitgate vibe, something that wasn't possible before the studio acquired $100 million in funding. "A lot of this evolving into a AAA game is about creating a unique identity and a unique art style… We want to make something where you look at it, and you instantly see 'Oh, that's that Splitgate. That's something I've never seen before'," Proul explains.
This bigger team has spent time on major lighting and material improvements, but are working to not stray too far from what Proul calls the "Red vs Blue vibe" that they want Splitgate to emulate. Whether this is a knowing nod to Halo or just a reference to the opposing squads' colors is unclear, especially when Proul denies that 1047 is looking at specific AAA games for inspiration.
"I wouldn't say there's any specific game that we were like, 'Oh, yeah, let's go make this look like Call of Duty or Destiny or Fortnite or whatever'. We're still exploring the art style. So for this first map, this is kind of our first iteration, we wanted to make something somewhat neutral so that we can get feedback, which will dictate, you know, do we go further in this direction? Do we pivot and slightly adjust?" says Proul. It's an interesting quandary for Spitgate devs to be facing right now: how does a game that so obviously pulls from two iconic franchises establish itself as a unique entity?
Proul is confident the team is up to the task. For the upcoming Season 1 launch, 1047 has reworked the Forgone Destruction map to better reflect the visual standard we should expect going forward. They're jamming Splitgate Beta Season 1 with plenty of new content too, in an attempt to help it split off from any comparisons and forge its own path forward.
Upping the Splitgate game
Splitgate Beta Season 1 will include all the hallmarks of big-budget F2P titles like Halo Infinite and Apex Legends: an improved 100-level battle pass that has thematically consistent skins, a new game mode called Evolution, a new map, and a custom map creator that will help get an already-active community even more engaged.
The custom map creator is a prime example of how 1047 wants to leverage its community to help shape Splitgate's growth. "For us, it's all about the community. Our mentality with every feature is that we want to get it into the hands of our community as quickly as possible. As soon as we have that Version 1.0 of a feature, we're putting it out there, because instead of us building on what we think players would want, we'd rather put it into their hands, get their feedback, and build it alongside them," says Proul.
"That's really kind of indicative of how we're going about our map creator. And so with our map creator 1.0, there's a lot of different directions we can take this in, but we feel like in this version 1.0 today, it is a powerful tool, you can make all sorts of crazy things and a lot of different directions we can take it in."
With this custom map creator, you'll have various blocks and shapes at your disposal to build your maps, as well as options to place objectives and play any mode you'd like on whatever you build (and use bots). And brilliantly, Splitgate will allow you to build with up to eight friends in multiplayer, as well as upload and access all other custom maps made by players. For those of us who may be new to map-building, Splitgate seems to have figured out a way to do it that's very user-friendly, with clear UI, and the ability to swap between build and test with ease.
It's clear that the Splitgate devs already have a keen sense of what keeps a F2P game fresh. We'll get a sense of that with the two new game modes which will drop alongside Splitgate Season 1 – Evolution and One Flag Capture the Flag. Evolution starts players with pistols and fists, and whoever loses the round is upgraded to a carbine and an assault rifle. This sets up an interesting dynamic, as a dominating team will consistently win but consistently get the worst loadout – expect wild matches out of this mode that will play well for streamers.
As for One Flag CTF, 1047 Games struggled to come up with a capture the flag mode that would work in a shooter that has portals. "We've been kind of banging our heads against the walls for years," Proul admits. "It's kind of tricky. We've experimented with all sorts of things, we feel like we finally got a variant of capture the flag that plays really, really well." The round-based, one flag mode will have short, two to three minute rounds with one team on offense and the other on defense. Flag carriers can't portal, and as soon as the team on offense snatches the flag, the defense can't portal, either. This helps prevent lightning fast CTF matches, and is a great sign that 1047 Games really knows exactly what it's working with when it comes to Splitgate.
There's a lot to look forward to with Splitgate Beta Season 1, from better graphics to new skins, new modes, and a brand-new way to create some portal-based mayhem in the form of a custom map creator. 1047 Games is really pushing the boundaries of this IP in an attempt to flex up to AAA status – Splitgate Beta Season 1, if successful, will certainly help beef this shooter up and make it even more popular than it already is.
Splitgate Beta Season 1 launches today, January 28, for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Speaking of Halo, there will never be another game like Halo 3.