Our Favorite Fictional Racetracks From Racing Games

Our Favorite Fictional Racetracks From Racing Games

Gran Turismo’s Mid-Field Raceway
Gran Turismo’s Mid-Field Raceway
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Few would pass up an opportunity to drive the likes of Spa-Francorchamps or the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and thankfully racing games provide us with the ability to live out those fantasies behind the wheel of any car we desire. They also let us explore fictional tracks that don’t or, in some cases, possibly never could exist in real life.

Here, we’re celebrating the finest fictional racing tracks featured in video games. Culling the list wasn’t easy; there have been so many examples of phenomenal track design in this medium over the years, it feels criminal to recognize just a handful of them. Still, these selections epitomize the values of top-tier circuit design: They’re enjoyable to drive, pretty or memorable to look at and encourage addictive hot lapping and/or close racing.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. 2017 Fiesta ST. Wishes NASCAR was more like Daytona USA.

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10. Maple Valley Raceway (Forza Motorsport)

10. Maple Valley Raceway (Forza Motorsport)

Credit: Throneful via YouTube

Maple Valley Raceway is Forza Motorsport’s oldest returning fictional track, having appeared in nearly every game in the series from the first entry in 2005 all the way to 2017's Forza Motorsport 7. In spite of Maple Valley’s peaceful autumn New England setting, it’s an especially tricky course due to its total lack of slow corners. This windy, undulating ribbon of road narrows up considerably in certain places and is flanked by massive grass runoffs for about half the lap. Overshoot your braking point, and you’re destined for no man’s land.

Races are won and lost in the final sector here. The rhythmic esses in turns 9 through 12 give way to a downhill back straight where you’re essentially in freefall, leading to the circuit’s formidable final corner. Only the brave resist the temptation to lift through it — and only the skilled avoid smacking the pit wall hard on the outside.

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9. Glenmorgan (Driveclub)

9. Glenmorgan (Driveclub)

Credit: Throneful via YouTube

I could have selected almost any track from Driveclub for inclusion on this list. Developer Evolution Studios — now responsible for Dirt 5 under the Codemasters umbrella — delivered some of the most breathtaking and inventive environmental design the genre has ever seen in this overlooked PS4 exclusive from 2014. The fact you could drive all of the tracks in treacherous conditions at any time of day, thanks to the game’s still-unrivaled dynamic weather system, only made the world feel more alive.

So what makes Glenmorgan stand out above the rest of Driveclub’s jaw-dropping locales? While all of the game’s environments look fantastic, India is one of its most beautiful, with its majestic peaks, paddy-covered valleys and lush vegetation. But the circuit itself also offers a little bit of everything, from bridges that provide little margin for error to technical switchbacks, as well as straightaways that give your machine to stretch its legs. I participated in many time trials and drift challenges on this very track during Driveclub’s heyday, spending hours attempting to beat my friends’ best results.

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8. Ubermall (Wipeout)

8. Ubermall (Wipeout)

Credit: CelestialEmotion via YouTube

Easily the most imaginative example here, Ubermall from Wipeout Pure, Wipeout HD and the PS4 Omega Collection captures Studio Liverpool’s brand of futuristic antigravity racing at its most intense. On the surface, the track’s premise alone is immediately compelling, as it weaves in and out of a shopping mall floating in the sky some 200 years in the future. But Ubermall is made all the more engaging by branching pathways and frequent undulations that, when taken with enough speed, allow you to catapult over the track surface to scrub precious seconds off your time. Not to say a lap here is long; a player who really knows what they’re doing can get around Ubermall in 20 seconds at the higher Rapier and Phantom speed classes. Just be sure not to hit a ceiling or billboard as you yeet yourself into the heavens at 500 mph.

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7. Mythical Coast (Rage Racer)

7. Mythical Coast (Rage Racer)

Credit: RB二六 via YouTube

Given that all the tracks in Namco’s classic arcade racing series are made up, you’d imagine there’d be a few gems in the Ridge Racer lineage. One that springs to mind is Mythical Coast, the very first track from the franchise’s third home console release, Rage Racer.

Rage Racer took Namco’s franchise out of the modern urban trappings of previous entries and relocated the action to a nondescript part of Europe decorated in ancient landmarks and immersed in nature. As such, Rage has an old-world grittiness to it that makes it a strange-yet-welcome anomaly in the Ridge Racer timeline. The track design has a lot to do with it; Mythical Coast set an indelible impression on me decades ago when I first drove it, with its towering waterfall and a tunnel that bores clean through the face of a mountain before spitting you off a cliff on the other side. The Mediterranean coastline stretch in the second sector and the twisty final corners returning you to the city center complete one of the era’s most unforgettable laps.

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6. Forest (Sega Rally Championship)

6. Forest (Sega Rally Championship)

Credit: SEGA Rally via YouTube

There’d never really been a game about rallying quite like Sega Rally Championship prior to its release in 1995. Creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, not a motorsport enthusiast at heart, wanted to develop a racing game but wasn’t inspired until he happened upon rallying footage while watching TV one day. After that, he knew exactly the kind of game he wanted to make, as he later told Eurogamer in 2015:

Let’s forget about circuit games. Let’s go out to nature. I was into rally itself, and the World Rally Championship in Europe — real cars with many stickers that drive through the town and the forest and the desert, with many people screaming. I felt this passion, and wanted to put that passion into the game.”

As Mizuguchi explains, a good rally game is nothing without authentic, discrete environments. Sega Rally had four: Desert, Forest, Mountain and Lakeside. While they’re all fun to drive for different reasons, Forest stands out by requiring more skill than Desert, but not being quite as claustrophobic as the two more difficult stages. It’s also the only one of the quartet to offer a mix of surface types, incorporating both dirt and tarmac segments that each significantly alter the behavior of the car. Hardly revolutionary today, but certainly novel for the time.

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5. Mid-Field Raceway (Gran Turismo)

5. Mid-Field Raceway (Gran Turismo)

Credit: MotoGamesTV via YouTube

From the top-down, there isn’t much to say bout Mid-Field Raceway, a track that first debuted in Gran Turismo 2 in 1999. There are 11 corners across this 2.2-mile ribbon, and almost all of its turns are fast- or medium-paced, save for that tricky hairpin before the second tunnel that is always a bit tighter than you remember.

However, in circuit design as in life, sometimes less is more. And Mid-Field, by virtue of its relentless speed and banking in parts, is the kind of old-school power circuit you rarely see in games today. Easy to get around yet tough to master, turning a fast lap at Mid-Field is all about choosing the proper line to carry the utmost speed through the two very long right-left bends in the middle— a deceptively difficult endeavor, because they can be taken a million different ways. Nailing the aforementioned hairpin is critical, too; foul that part up, and you’ll be enduring the consequences of your mistake all the way until the end of the start/finish straight.

Those who have been playing Gran Turismo since the beginning will note that Mid-Field underwent a critical change after GT3, where its rounded first corner was reprofiled into a sharper double-apex right. Personally, I prefer the smoother original approach, but I’d be happy to see either iteration make a reappearance in GT7 after the track missed out appearing in GT Sport.

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4. National Forest (Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2)

4. National Forest (Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2)

Credit: AudiR8King via YouTube

There are a few different types of Need for Speed fans out there. Some prefer Criterion’s Burnout-infused renditions from the early part of the previous decade, while many still hold Blackbox’s open-world iterations in high regard. But those who have been familiar with NFS since its 32-bit beginnings remember a different sort of flavor for the series: A time when the brand was all about the world’s most exotic supercars, and outrunning the cops in them.

2002's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 is arguably the pinnacle of this era, thanks to its perfected pursuit mechanics and blistering sense of speed, particularly in the PS2 version. National Forest, one of the first tracks you encounter in the game, presents players with a crash course in what Hot Pursuit 2 is all about: Carving the fastest route through a variety of paths, all the while using jumps and obstacles strategically to edge out the fuzz and rival racers. The game’s environment design is among the best to ever grace the franchise, from shorter and breezier tracks like this to longer and more demanding ones, like the 13-mile Tropical Circuit.

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3. Three Seven Speedway (Daytona USA)

3. Three Seven Speedway (Daytona USA)

Credit: Kiss My Robot via YouTube

If you’ve visited an arcade at any point in the last 25 years, you likely dropped a few quarters into a Daytona USA machine and turned eight laps around the beginner circuit, known as Three Seven Speedway. This tri-oval, often compared to Pocono Raceway in its shape, clearly doesn’t offer a variety of corners or scenic views. What it does offer, however, is a chance for newcomers and seasoned experts alike to show their mettle.

See, anyone can hop into a few Daytona cabs with their friends and immediately enjoy racing each other at this track, regardless if they have any familiarity with motorsports or video games. (The excitement and hilarity are multiplied several times if your group is buzzed at a Barcade.) But if you really know Daytona, you know that drifting will shave seconds off your time in Turn 3. That’s the brilliance of Three Seven Speedway: The layout is simple and completely non-threatening to new players, but it still requires an understanding of the game’s slipstream and drifting mechanics if you want to excel at a higher level. Its inclusion was a masterstroke by the developers, and I strongly believe Daytona USA would never have become a staple of arcades around the world without it.

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2. Seaside Route 765 (Ridge Racer)

2. Seaside Route 765 (Ridge Racer)

Credit: MrThunderwing via YouTube

Appearing in a number of entries in the Ridge Racer franchise since the very first back in 1993, Seaside Route 765 is a track firmly etched in fans’ minds at this point. While it’s only 2.5 miles in length and not particularly complicated at the outset, there are a few noteworthy spots — namely, the tight right-hander out of the first tunnel and the one leading out of the beach — that require finesse and mastery of the series’ trademark drift mechanic to negotiate properly.

Seaside Route 765 really is the quintessential ’90s arcade racing track, partially for its simplicity and brevity but also because of the varied landscapes it packs despite its short lap time. In just 50 seconds, drivers navigate a utopian metropolis, weave through mountains and stroll beside a beach. Upon Ridge Racer’s release, it was a stunning display of what the future of polygonal gaming could offer, and today it’s interesting to reflect on how this memorable loop has evolved over the years through hardware advancements. I’d love to see how it’d look on the new generation of consoles.

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1. Trial Mountain (Gran Turismo)

1. Trial Mountain (Gran Turismo)

Credit: PlayStation via YouTube

If you asked a Gran Turismo fan which fictional track they most wish existed in real life, there’s a strong chance they’d answer Trial Mountain. One of the series’ oldest circuits alongside Grand Valley Speedway, High Speed Ring and Deep Forest, Trial Mountain is distinguished by its frequent elevation changes, daunting blind corners and predisposition for drama. You can easily throw away your race in the rocky middle sector totally devoid of runoff area, or risk it all in the infamous final corner and launch yourself up the inside of the chicane for a last-ditch bid for victory.

Trial Mountain regrettably missed GT Sport, though thankfully we know it’ll return for GT7. From the only footage of the game that’s been released so far, it’s clear to see the main and back straightaways have been significantly lengthened, likely to accommodate larger grids; meanwhile, the death chicane has been completely transformed into a slower, tighter and longer section to discourage cheating. It’s an understandable change, given Gran Turismo’s FIA-endorsed esports leanings, though it will surely make split-screen races a bit less exciting. Still, at this point, I’ll take an opportunity to drive Trial Mountain any way I can.

Those are our picks for the best fictional tracks from racing games, but what are yours? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you would’ve placed in your top 10.

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Staff Writer at Jalopnik. 2017 Fiesta ST. Wishes NASCAR was more like Daytona USA.

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