When crafting a DLC package of any significant weight for a game that has gone down really well with gamers and critics alike, developers have to be careful. What they add can’t interfere with the mix that they already had, as they really don’t want to be messing with a successful formula. Playground Games found a way to ensure that this wasn’t going to be a problem with their first piece of substantial DLC for the excellent Forza Horizon 2, by setting the whole thing on an island that’s entirely separate from everything in the original game.
Indeed, Storm Island is a good idea, and one that was pioneered by the outstanding Burnout Paradise with the Big Surf Island DLC package. In that game, you had to drive to the coast and along a pier before seamlessly driving into the new area. With Horizon’s Storm Island though, you need to head along to the harbour in Nice and then sit through a period of loading before being plopped down on Storm Island. Given that the rest of the gameworld is explorable without any loading, it’s a bit of an immersion breaker.
Once you’re on the island though, there’s plenty to do. A whole stack of new championships, race types, weather conditions, smashables, “bucket list” challenges, speed zones, speed traps, and things to find are on offer here, easily adding up to a double-figure number of hours of gameplay. The most touched upon feature – the “extreme” weather systems that the island is susceptible to – is great. It rains a lot harder than it used to, there’s occasionally some very dense fog, and the wind is lot brisker, with trees bending to the point of looking like they're about to snap. Visually, these effects can be absolutely stunning but outside of some of the night-time Gauntlet challenges – which are point-to-point races through a floodlight course during a storm – there’s a feeling that a bit more could have been done. How about a bit of snow, for example? Or some huge lightning storms?
There’s also a question mark over the new event types. They all work as they should and are all fun, but it’s a bit of a stretch to really call them “new.” A “Rampage” event sees you driving across country between points, while “Brawl” events generally take place on circuits over a number of laps, both on and off-road. Very, very similar things were featured in the original game, only with different names. A point-to-point race across open country is a point-to-point race across open country, whether you call it “Rampage” or “Extreme Cross Country”, after all. Admittedly, events on Storm Island often feature much, much bigger changes in elevation than you’ll find in the main game, and that’s always fun. Also, some events do feature new chicane obstacles that you need to avoid – but they’re so sparse that they’re barely worth mentioning.
So for £15.99 then – which is about half the price of the full game at some retailers – it sounds like the Storm Island DLC doesn’t represent value for money and is a little undercooked, right?
Well, no. You see, while Storm Island isn’t as rich and varied as it could have been, it does provide masses of new things to see and do, all within the confines of a package that we already know is fun to play and a real time-sink. The first four new bucket list challenges provided are relatively simple to beat, but the four “hardcore” challenges on the second list are no joke, and you’ll spend a good few hours just trying to best them. On top of that, when all is said and done, there’s a new Finale to work towards, a handful of new cars to play with, new upgrade options for all of your existing cars to help make them better suited for the rougher terrain and in total, over 90 new events to take part in. Online, a new Car Meet location is the home base for the three new showdown events, 20 new online race routes, four new Playground areas, and five new online championship types. There are also another 500G of achievements to pick up, if that's your bag. In short, there’s a decent amount of bang here for your buck - especially if you have the VIP pass which allows you to buy Storm Island for half price - even if it could have been a louder and more impressive one.
Forza Horizon 2: Storm Island is going to be an absolute no-brainer for fans of the game. The new content is well-constructed, but the big noises being made about the new race types are a little bit overblown for our liking. The new weather is good but not necessarily as varied as it could have been, and the event types could have been more outlandish. However, there's absolutely no doubt that Playground’s island adventure extends an excellent game by more than enough hours to justify the price of the ticket.