Battlefield 5 improves on Battlefield 1, but it might make you pine for the original

Video: Chris playing Grand Operations back at E3.

As I played the closed alpha today, I kept forgetting that Battlefield 5 is a World War 2 game. The UI is sleek, and the guns are effortless to use—they aren't as janky as Battlefield 1's period rifles, firing rapidly and precisely. It made me feel nostalgic for the beats of the M1 Garand from Battlefield 1942.

I do like quite a bit about BF5 so far, at least as compared to Battlefield 1. I'm thankful that Conquest is back to the old scoring system—most rounds I played were close, and no giant behemoth trains or airships interrupted the natural story. Sentry units are gone too, and I never liked those. Going up against supersoldiers wasn't fun. 

The new animations are ace all around. I rarely had any problem vaulting through windows or over sandbags, and I love the way my soldier slightly tilts his gun as I strafe left and right, suggesting shoulder sway. The gesture when I grab a health pack is oddly cheerful among the destruction, with which DICE has outdone itself again. At one point I was trapped in a house, the only one on my team there, while a tank systematically blew walls into my face, which I responded to by throwing dynamite off the edge of my disintegrating second story hideout. Dishes crashed to the floor with each concussive blow. It was fantastic.

Performance

I managed a steady 60+ fps with a GeForce GTX 980, at least when I wasn't recording with Shadowplay. Expect Battlefield 5 to be slightly more demanding than BF1 (I saw some players complaining they were getting big framerate dips), but if you can play BF1, you're probably fine—might just have to lower a setting or two.

I did not find the new squad and revive systems to be the essential changes I'd hoped for, however. Squads do stick together better, but I wasn't revived much more often than I usually am in BF1, even though squadmates can now revive each other even if they aren't medics. In fact, I started to resent them when they did revive me (though they should, for the sake of our score). 

The new 'bleeding out' phase is a race to mash the mouse buttons to get to the respawn screen, because why would I want to come back with no primary ammo when I can just fully respawn on the very same squadmate reviving me? Once you die (properly die, after bleeding out for a while), you get over-the-shoulder views of your squadmates and can very quickly reappear behind one of them. I wish it'd just cut to that with a timer rather than make me sit through my soldier's frightened screams and calls to God as he clutches his wounds.

Yeah, you now have a button which allows you to raise your bloodied hand to the sky in despair and cry out, a stark contrast to the dumb sandbox of Battlefield 1942. This is partially for fidelity's sake: DICE is attempting to diminish UI cues in favor of yelling and wriggling around. It worked at one point, as a teammate's screams drew my attention to them when otherwise I'd probably have kept my eyes down the scope of the medic's deadly semi-auto rifle. It's also partially just to be gruesome by more thoroughly acting out war and death.

That desire for 'cinematic' moments has, over the years, sped Battlefield up significantly. You begin life as a target and it can end seconds later with an explosive detonating in your face. Gone are the long walks, the longer swims, and the goofing off. Vehicles are allocated efficiently from the map screen, a convenience that has felt like a loss since it was introduced. 

When Battlefield 5 is slow it's because it has halted. You are on the ground bleeding, waiting. The lack of any in-between makes it feel like a traffic jam—forward, stop, forward, stop—rather than a series of little journeys like it was in the older games. 

Why is it so dark inside?!

The other stark contrast in Battlefield 5 is the actual damn contrast between indoor and outdoor spaces. Like in BF1, interiors are so dark that I once spawned on a squadmate and turned around twice seeing nothing but blackness. The HDR effects go so overboard they feel ridiculous—in reality one can see normally within a half-demolished house, even on a sunny day, but here looking outside is like pressing your eyes against a bulb. There's a lot of visual noise, too. The snow in your face and busy environments make spotting once again essential, giving the scout players something to do other than camp and piss me off by headshotting me with their Kar98ks while I'm minding my own business.

A minor levolution

The alpha map, Narvik, is meh. The six capture points form two roughly parallel curves between the deployment areas. There's a half-demolished railway loading bay with two levels and points on either end, creating a corridor players fight over eternally (think of the crashed airship in Giant's Shadow from BF1). The other points are bases and depots with houses that are fun to demolish, but not much distinguishes one from another in my experience so far. Clearing houses is fun, or peeking out of windows to peck at each other from across the street. Would be more fun if I could see a damn thing, though.

There are some good changes in Battlefield 5. One I haven't mentioned yet is a reduction of starting supplies, which I like—running out of ammo is more common, but so are places to resupply, and it feels much more exciting to be handed an ammo pack by one of your support players. But the Battlefield series has not taken a new direction by any means. The squad dynamics are a little improved, but it's so hectic it's like the last five seconds of a Rainbow Six Siege match are constantly looping—there is little time for the methodical setup that's so fun about that game.

And so far I've found only rare moments of silliness in Battlefield 5. I didn't think or expect that returning to World War 2 would also mean a return to the open sightlines and relaxing swims of BF1942, though I'm a little disappointed that the trend away from it hasn't slowed at all. Where that game felt like a toybox—not a war, but a playground with war stuff in it—modern Battlefield is evermore like a Hollywood effects movie that delights at chaos, and only slows down for closeups of bloodied, groaning bodies to assure us that it is serious. I do look forward to the plane trick compilations, at least.