In a quite unexpected turn-up for the books, the first Forza Horizon 2 expansion pack was unleashed yesterday morning – taking many by surprise. What's also surprising is that at $20, just how expensive Storm Island is.
However, I've been playing it solidly since yesterday morning, and I must say that while on the surface it might look somewhat overpriced, it does actually offer pretty damn good value for money. Here's why.
Storm Island is a whole new area of Playground Games' seminal open-world racer, and is accessed simply by driving to Nice harbor and electing to travel there. When you do, you're transported to the eponymous island, which is a unique landmass that's around the size of one of the original game's five main areas.
What's different about Storm Island, as you might have gathered from its name, is that it's a far cry from the balmy climes of the Southern French/Northern Italian main game setting. Instead, the volcanic island has its own sub-tropical microclimate, and what that means is extreme weather: one moment it'll be bright and sunny; the next, a storm will roll in, bringing with it howling winds and almost biblical deluges of rain.
Matching this rough weather is even rougher terrain. Anyone expecting some glassy smooth blacktop to race around is going to be sorely disappointed. Storm Island is crisscrossed with dirt tracks, and the type of cars you need to be driving are jacked-up rally cars, SUVs and off-roaders – or a car that has been heavily modified with raised suspension, dirt tires and rally transmission. To that end, five new cars join the original Forza Horizon 2 inventory specifically for that purpose -Robby Gordon's Speed Energy Drink Stadium Super Truck, a 1992 Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, a Ford Ranger T6 Rally Raid, a classic 1981 Ford Fiesta XR2, and the exceptionally tall 2013 MINI X-Raid All4 Racing Countryman. There's also a Barn Find car, which I won't tell you about – but I found it in about 20 minutes and am very happy I did, because it's one of my all-time favorite vehicles.
Six new vehicles doesn't sound like much, but since it seems almost all cars from the original release can be modified with Storm Island-specific gear, the selection of cars available to race is pretty comprehensive.
Speaking of races, there's an all-new championship to tackle, and the game comprises some 90 new races in all, each following one of five new racing formats. Rampage is a point-to-point race where players are challenged with an obstacle-strewn course. Brawl is an off-road race where you contend with some of the game's nastiest terrain, such as precipitous climbs and drops, and off-camber surfaces. Extreme Cross Country is similar to Brawl racing, but dials up the proceedings with violent weather and even tougher courses. Cross Country Circuit features laps around mixed surfaces that take in dirt track and off-road routes. And last, but not least is Gauntlet – night-time, point-to-point racing against the very best of Forza's drivers, and the very worst of Storm Island's elements.
What all this adds up to is a tremendous amount of off-road racing, especially when you take into account the additional Bucket List, Speed Trap and Speed Zone challenges, online races, and Showdown and Rival events. It's a pretty solid package overall.
Apart from the sheer volume of activities, what really stood out for me are Storm Island's weather effects. I can’t think of any game that has more realistic extreme weather. Racing at night through a tropical storm is just stunning, and the early morning after effects, complete with layers of mist and fog make the game look hauntingly realistic. This broad sweep of weather effects does deliver a terrific atmosphere – especially when it begins to change in mid race. Sheets of rain can fall from the sky, and the way that trees bend in the wind is incredibly realistic. Combine that with flying leaves and twigs, and you have a game that really does look highly impressive – especially when you’re driving at night.
Obviously, the big question is whether or not Storm Island is worth its fairly hefty $20 price tag? The lack of cars might disappoint some, but I think the collection is decent enough. The landmass also isn't that huge, but condensed into it are a plenty of activities and challenges, and a really exciting racing championship. It's clearly a significant step up from the off-road challenges in the main game, and some of the later races will push most players to the limits of their skill.
Bottom line, Storm Island feels substantial enough as a package to be worthwhile – especially if you've raced out the original game. Like I just said, the racing is exciting to say the least, and it really does feel like a new expansion with new content, rather than just more of the same kind of thing that the original game offered. That's definitely how DLC should be done, and even if it stings a little when you fork over the cash for it, once you start racing, you'll soon forget about the price, because ultimately, Storm Island delivers some of the craziest, most intense off-road racing yet seen.