How Gran Turismo’s picturesque Trial Mountain drifts between fantasy and the real world
Sunlight pierces the ragged gap between two avenues of trees lining the steadily climbing road. Trial Mountain’s long back straight is a rare chance to breathe, providing relief after the twists of the track’s canyon section, a rock-walled succession of unforgiving hairpins that will punish careless corner-clipping and scanty braking. It’s also a chance to enjoy some of the few visual flourishes Gran Turismo invests in beyond its cars: shadows and reflections flickering across paintwork, and shafts of light splayed by the canopy above.
If there’s anywhere in Gran Turismo that you’ll flick between bonnet, behind-car and cockpit views to enjoy the sense of place, it’s on this straight. If your car’s fast enough, you’ll finally have a chance to gain on your competitors; if you haven’t invested in that new gearbox or intake upgrade, then perhaps any relief is tinged with anxiety as their leads creep inexorably wider, but it’s still a moment of relative calm in one of Polyphony Digital’s most dynamic tracks. A blend of skill test and adventure, Trial Mountain’s inclines, switchbacks and sweeping turns cut through a wild environment of rock and forest, a wide-tracked and taut loop of rhythmic braking and acceleration that lives up to its name.
Trial Mountain appeared among the first Gran Turismo’s roster of tracks, and has returned in every game (except the Prologue releases) since. All of that first game’s tracks were dreamed up by Polyphony, including the fluorescent-lit night-time city of Special Stage Routes 5 and 11, the tightly coiled Autumn Ring, and the Californian expanses of Grand Valley Speedway. As the series has steadily taken on more and more official courses, the careful balance of videogame fantasy and motorsport reality in these progenitors has only been emphasised: their wide roads and gratifying sights, hills and valleys are simply more fun to drive than the technical but visually drab real-world race tracks. Other than perhaps the pollution-hazed corkscrew of Laguna Seca and the sheer contorted scale of the Nürburgring, official tracks are all trial and no mountain.
Take Trial Mountain’s canyon section, which drops you into shadow just as you approach the track’s most fearsome corner, a sharp turn that takes the deftest of touches to the brake and wheel to mount the inside kerb and throw your car’s weight around it – an intense pleasure in the first Gran Turismo’s growling Dodge Viper. But it’s all too easy to take it too fast, which will send you scraping along the wall on the opposite side instead. And just to emphasise the risk, you’ll see a dead tree jutting from the rocky canyon’s top, an expression of the kind of danger that no real-world track would ever give its drivers.