10 of the best standalone DLC packs

Today sees the release of Forza Horizon 2 presents Fast & Furious, a condensed nugget of fuel-injected beauty from Playground Games. It's also that increasingly common thing, a standalone DLC pack, derived from the game it uses for its name, but different enough to warrant opening it up to a whole new audience.

Due to what I imagine are world-spanning advertising concerns, it is also totally free until 10th April, which is magnificent news. Remember that brilliant Forza Horizon 2 demo? Bin it - this is a full (if miniaturised) game, that invokes the oeuvre of both Vin Diesel and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.

That fact alone will more than likely make it a better game than Forza Horizon 2 in the eyes of some people, which got me to thinking - what are the best standalone DLC packs ever to hit Xbox consoles, and were they better than the games that spawned them? Here are 10 answers to that two-part question.

Halo 3: ODST

If Halo is gaming's Blur (honestly, just go with this) - world-conquering excellence beloved by all - then ODST is its Gorillaz - an arty endeavour that achieved success on its own terms. It's a side-project through and through, an indulgence for everyone making it. Bungie got to play with the design dynamics of weaker characters, write a sci-fi detective story, hell, even Martin O'Donnell wrote an entirely new, jazz-influenced soundtrack for this single game. It's a beautiful little thing, enriching the series, but warping it to its own ends.

Better than the original?: Ask the right person on the right day, and you'll get a definite yes. Halo 3 was very much a continuation of a formula - this felt like a line in the sand, and its influence on the later games is undeniable.

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City

Oh, nothing to see here, just Rockstar changing the medium again. This combined package of the Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and the Damned DLC is the moment at which Rockstar realised that its peerless world-building could be used in a whole new way - to tell multiple stories in a single location. Looked at in that light, it almost certainly marked the moment at which the studio decided to create GTA V's astounding triple-header story mode.

Better than the original?: If we're talking purely about story - because that's what the Episodes were truly about - then yes. Mr. Bellic was cool and all, but his rags to rampage story was a little predictable - these were far more intricate.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

Well, obviously. It's become increasingly normal to take the mechanics of a game and place them in a totally new context, but it gained some serious traction here. John Marston's alternate zombie reality was a pulpy thrill, a total departure from the sunbaked drama of the main game and a chance for Rockstar's writers to flex their comedy muscles a little more.

Better than the original?: Not really - the heart of Red Dead's genius was its atmosphere. This is still a truly wonderful game, but it's best looked at as a counterpoint to its stellar big brother.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

This is less a new take on an old game and more an excuse for the Far Cry team to cleance all of Vaas' high-falutin' drug trip bollocks from their systems with something totally stupid. An '80s pastiche of the highest order, it reinvents the main game in order to include neon weaponry, middle fingers and the voice of Micheal 'bloke from Terminator' Biehn. It also unwittingly kicked off Ubisoft's brilliant programme of "cooldown" games, letting their franchise-endowed devs make what they want for a time.

Better than the original?: Maybe? It very much depends on what you want from your open-world shooter. If the answer is "to feel like I'm actually inside that VHS tape I found behind a bus stop in 1991", then yes.

XCOM: Enemy Within

MECH PEOPLE. Even ignoring the 47 new maps, new enemy types, risk-reward mechanics, extended storyline, strategy complications and that cool thing where you can give the soldier you named Jimmy Two-Hearts an actual second heart, this expansion to Firaxis' near-perfect tactical gauntlet gives you the ability to take a person, and turn them into a mech. They could have included that one change, called it "XCOM: Oh My God I'm A Robot Now" and it still would have been the best thing.

Better than the original?: MECH PEOPLE. By which I mean, "yes".

Zombie Army Trilogy

This is a bit of an odd one. Two bits of Sniper Elite DLC have been added to a third chunk of new game, then released as a single game billed as three separate games. Ignore the odd approach to marketing, and you'll realise that this is Rebellion's secret weapon. In the same way that many buy CoD for its zombies mode, this takes the core gameplay of Sniper Elite and gives it a grotesque twist, becoming a game more interested in surviving sieges than sneaking and sniping.

Better than the original?: Yes! Sniper Elite's always weakest when it tries to be a stealth game. This is never a stealth game, ergo it is better. Plus, one of the playable characters totally looks like the guy who gets his face melted off at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Dead Rising 2: Case West

One of two standalone packs for Capcom's gleeful sequel, Case West distinguishes itself by letting the first game's protagonist, Frank West make a proper appearance. What follows is a miniature story that squeezes in all of the series' major elements, some dumb jokes and, weirdly, a better co-op mode than either the main game or Case Zero, the first pack.

Better than the original?: Not quite - Dead Rising's at its best when it feels freeform, letting you stumble on idiotic weaponry and places to use them. A smaller game doesn't quite lend itself to that, but it's a great attempt at altering the formula a tad.

Saint's Row 4: Gat Out of Hell

You can almost taste the increasing desperation of Saint's Row's writers with every passing game. "Where the hell do we go next?" one will have said. Another, noticing the very useful emphasis I put in the text there, will have gotten the idea, and here we are. It's a fun concept - fan favourites Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington enter the underworld to reclaim their stolen boss, using a myriad of Mortal Sin-based weaponry to wade through a population even more evil than the Saints. Sadly, the execution was far less exciting - it's a rushed project, with all the technical and design problems that entails.

Better than the original?: Absolutely not - Gat Out of Hell's both less varied and less attractive than the game that spawned it.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

This one's stretching the issue a little, but Remedy's download-only follow up to its Twin Peaks-meets-Resi oddity was so rooted in the first game's ideas that we're happy to include it, despite it taking two years to arrive. It's a more madcap experience, with a bigger emphasis on combat, but the real brilliance is in how it changed the tone - this time, it aped The Twilight Zone, taking place within a TV show you find playing throughout the original game.

Better than the original?: We'd say it came close, except for the fact that a major plot point centres around a Kasabian song, which is simply inexcusable.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

People called Ground Zeroes many things: "paid demo", "prologue" or "betrayal" were just some of the terms levelled at it. In reality, it's standalone DLC released before the main game. Look at the facts. It's a shorter experience, set up as an unnecessary but illuminating prequel to the events of The Phantom Pain, but which uses almost all the same mechanics and the same engine. Trust Kojima to weird up the whole process.

Better than the original?: *shrug*. Hopefully not, though.

Joe Skrebels
Joe first fell in love with games when a copy of The Lion King on SNES became his stepfather in 1994. When the cartridge left his mother in 2001, he turned to his priest - a limited edition crystal Xbox - for guidance. And now he's here.