I fell into a burning ring of fire...
When Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun hit store shelves last year after nearly four years of prolonged development, it overjoyed and chagrined an equal number of players. Plenty of vocal critics and reviewers lambasted it for not advancing the genre or providing anything more than an updated version of the original, groundbreaking Command & Conquer. Still, the game was a huge seller and despite the fact that it was more of the same, it was still the same old fun... albeit with a few rough spots.
Westwood, developer of the C&C franchise, has had a spotty history regarding expansion packs. Usually, they ship a number of fiendishly difficult maps along with some new units, some goofy Easter eggs (dinosaurs, giant ants), and no real plot. So it was with dubious reticence that the gaming world gingerly embraced the announcement of Tiberian Sun's first expansion pack: Firestorm.
As more details were revealed, it seemed that there was cause to be interested. Firestorm was to have a real plot and new video footage. Perhaps sensing that many gamers were disappointed in how little Tiberian Sun continued the overall C&C story of GDI (Global Defense Initiative, the good guys) vs. the Brotherhood of NOD (the bad guys, much cooler), Firestorm was designed to make the narrative more robust. That, along with plenty of new maps, units, and a major new multiplayer addition, was enough to start some C&C lovers salivating.
It's here, and although not quite as stunning as the pre-release press would have suggested, it's still a good deal of fun. The new units aren't really show stoppers, and the plot, as you might expect, is lighter than a full sequel would receive, but it packs plenty of gameplay.
Easily the most notable feature of Firestorm is the multiplayer-only World Domination Tour mode. In the WDT, battles are fought for control over regions in an overall map, organizing bouts into massive online wars for the ultimate prize of 'World Domination.' Although it doesn't really contribute to the nuts and bolts of gameplay, WDT provides a motive and purpose to multiplayer contests, making them more than simple strategy deathmatches. Additional terrain variety and the inclusion of new Tiberian life forms also help to keep multiplayer fresh.
The single player game, while not as interesting, is nonetheless well designed. The single player maps are certainly more challenging than the original, yet are not so demonically tough as those that were found in the C&C and C&C Red Alert expansions. There are also some interesting challenges, such as quelling riots, which add something new to the gameplay.
The plot keeps things together well enough, though at times it seems to depart on tangents without addressing pertinent plot threads. The story involves more Tiberium madness, insane computers, and plenty of the other staples of cheesy sci-fi upon which C&C has always relied. Unlike in Tiberian Sun, you are not an on-screen character in any of the movies. Instead, your commander briefs you directly through the monitor screen, just like in previous C&Cs. Although somewhat overproduced and under-acted, the footage is good enough for a computer game and more than enough for an add-on pack.
As far as the nitty-gritty of gameplay, Firestorm sticks to the earlier mold by adding a few new units and some additional environmental items. Both NOD and GDI have been given a few (about 5 per side) new units and structures. Each side has received a mobile production facility (Mobile War Factory or The Fist of NOD), mobile versions of some of their respective special buildings (Mobile EMP Cannon or Mobile Stealth Generator), and Limpet Drones that attach to enemy units and are useful for spying.
GDI also gets an artillery piece, the Juggernaut, and Drop Pods that pinpoint-land paratroopers. NOD receives the devastating Cyborg Reaper. It's not a bad mix and it's fairly well balanced, but also robs each side of some of their distinctness. Giving GDI an artillery piece, for instance, is plainly out of character.
There are also some new Tiberium plants, Ion Storms (lighting storms which turn off satellite maps) in multiplayer, and all of the fixes and enhancements in the recent patches to Tiberian Sun.
When it really comes down to it, Firestorm is a good time, but adds nothing of real substance to Tiberian Sun, which itself added little substance to the original C&C. If you're a fan of Tiberian Sun, pick up Firestorm and enjoy yourself. It's plenty good for that, and at least we only had to wait about 4 months this time.