It’s hard to say what makes a great racetrack. Indeed, a simple oval can be better than another very similar oval, perhaps due to track camber or elevation. But there are limits to what can be achieved in the real world. Video games, of course, have no such boundaries. Anything that can be imagined can be turned into a race track. Heck, Gran Turismo 6 even let you drive on the surface of the moon.
But what are the best fictional race tracks in all of gaming? This article suggests five, though of course, everyone has their own favourites. And one point to note – fictional tracks set in real-world cities are not included, otherwise Seattle from Gran Turismo would be in here, no question. Without further ado and in no particular order…
Maple Valley Raceway – Forza Motorsport series
The thing that makes this racetrack stand out is its deceptive difficulty. Even the first wide-open, long right-hander will instantly punish the impatient, as you’ll slide off into the leaves and tyre barrier. But this easily visible corner is just a taster for the rest of the circuit, which embraces the concept of risk vs reward like few others. It’s a very fast track and if you tackle it in a supercar, you’ll want to floor it for a large percentage of the time.
But the faster you go, the more the undulations will throw your car off-balance. The smallest kinks suddenly behave like bona fide chicanes, and the final right-left-right onto the main straight can be taken as one corner – but only if you get your racing line exactly right. The thing that makes this a real racer’s track is that you’ll always feel like there’s more time to be had because the limit always looks like it’s further away than it is. After every corner, you’ll feel that surely you could have gone quicker… until you try it and crash out. Devilish.
Trial Mountain – Gran Turismo series
Rumoured to be set in Scotland, UK, Trial Mountain has been in Gran Turismo since the very beginning. The Gran Turismo series has always had superb fictional tracks, now complemented of course by the very best that the real world has to offer too. But Trial Mountain is a real driver’s track.
The assured handling model means that you can really feel the deceleration as you slow for the left-hander into the first tunnel. Then the winding section will punish those who are too eager on the throttle, as small elevations allow the car to go light, wheels spinning dangerously. But, it’s the second half of the lap that really shines. That long straight into a banked corner always makes you wonder just how fast you can afford to go, and it’s common to fishtail all the way around this corner.
Then there’s the right-left-right where you can make up ground on the car ahead, hoping perhaps to stick it down the inside at the hairpin. And if that fails, there’s that one last do-or-die chicane before the start/finish line. It’s here that everyone found out you can’t roll the cars in the original Gran Turismo.
Seaside Route 765 – Ridge Racer
You could make an argument for most of the tracks from Ridge Racer: Type 4 to go on this list, but the original Ridge Racer track is pretty damn perfect in every way.
You’ve got iconic trackside scenery like the skyscrapers in front of the startline, which you drive through in the gorgeous tunnel area, then the bridge, seaside drive and lighthouse. But, in terms of the types of corners there are, each has something to offer.
Turn 2 gives you a chance to test the drift mechanic, while a strong racing line will get you to the seafront without lifting from that point on. The shout of “Next corner’s tough – watch yourself!” is spot on, because the hairpin by the lighthouse can only be safely navigated if you slow down or get the back to step out into a trademark drift. There’s a little jump (complete with cute but meaningless distance markers painted on the floor) going into the tunnel, and the overpass is designed to show off the polygonal 3D visuals.
Ridge Racer V features an endurance race that lasts some 45 minutes on this one track and it’s not even a chore. It’s driving heaven.
Forest – Sega Rally Championship
Arcade racers needed to be absolutely enthralling for three minutes at a time, which meant that titles like Sega Rally packed as many awesome corners into its four short tracks as possible.
The second – after the lazy, wide Desert course – is the pinnacle of ’90s racer track design. The long, opening right-hander is an exercise in maintaining momentum, before the tunnel’s left-header asks you to test your nerve and get through it without lifting. Then the drift-tastic left and right-handers that follow let you enjoy the game’s wonderful physics before theme’s first hairpin bend.
Things only get better after that with a change of track surface, as churned-up mud flashes by under you as you careen around muddy turns, leaving the ground on occasion and lining up for the double-apex right-hander masquerading as a full chicane. It’s a shame the default settings only give you one lap. You’ll want to race it again immediately.
Daytona USA – Dinosaur Canyon
It may be another ’90s arcade racer from Sega but there’s simply nothing like this track coming out of any modern racing studio. As with most Sega racetracks, this starts with a very shallow bend to get you used to how the car handles if it’s your first time ever on the game. But you’re lulled into a false sense of security, with the extra long right-hander immediately followed by a kink to the left into the tunnel. This is where practically everyone crashes on their first go, yet if you nail the racing line, you’d never even contemplate slowing down for it.
What follows is a fast section of corners down into a dip, before ascending through a right-hander which needs to be taken with the car in its drift state otherwise it’s the scene of your second big accident. The track surface is slippery here and the next right-hander can also see you slew into the outside wall. But all this does is give you more time to observe one of the best-looking corners of all time. You come over a ridge looking at blue sky before the ground drops away to reveal the sharply-cambered left-hander at the bottom of the hill, complete with text written in the trackside grass that advertises the game’s developer, ‘Sega AM2’.
After that, it’s a quick straight into another handling test of a final corner. You know the drill: 4th into 2nd, turn in, up to 3rdm, redline it through and then into 4th for the start/finish straight. Simply perfect – and you’ll never master it.
So there you have it. You may notice the lack of modern-day fictional circuits, but that’s partly because great videogame track design seems to be dying out, but also because it was just so good in ’90s racers. Unsurprising considering they were designed to thrill and challenge gamers, to hook them and to keep them coming back for more.
If you have your own suggestions, please let us know on social media, we’d love to hear them!