Hands-on with BeamNG.drive’s gravity-defying v0.27 update

Ross McGregor
The team behind chaotic physics-heavy crash-em-up BeamNG.drive has released its new Baja-themed update. We take a detailed look at all its new content and offer our thoughts.
Hands-on with BeamNG.drive’s gravity-defying v0.27 update

BeamNG.drive’s v0.27 update dropped yesterday (13th December 2022) and it’s perhaps the game’s biggest content drop since joining Steam Early Access in 2015.

Featuring a whole new map, five vehicles, new missions and advanced features such as bypass shock absorbers, advanced EV driving modes and a Tire Pressure Management System, BeamNG.drive is pushing the boundaries of the driving game genre.

V0.27 focuses on a new desert location, with five new vehicles featuring varying degrees of off-road prowess. We’ve had a chance to sample all of the new content so we can firmly answer the question: is v0.27 BeamNG’s best update yet?

Doing a bit of Johnson Valley sightseeing

Johnson Valley

Just deserts

Johnson Valley is 10km² of sand, rocks, jumps and ruts, punctuated by a wide-open highway – the longest piece of straight road in the game. The map is based on the real-world location of Johnson Valley, California, slap-bang in the Mojave Desert.

Researched by the BeamNG developers in person, the area is famed for its sandy dunes, arid hills and rutted off-road trails, all of which are well replicated in-game. In fact, it might be the most accurate location in BeamNG we’ve ever seen.

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
Johnson Valley. There’s nothing amusing about that name.

A particular highlight for me are the rough lanes dotted all over the map. These have huge bumps, uneven cambers and look utterly convincing. The way light hits all the nooks and crannies on these twisty trails is a marvel of BeamNG’s physically-based rendering (PBR) models.

Speaking of light, Johnson Valley looks particularly sumptuous at sunrise and sunset. The golden hues produced by the sun’s rays on the desert sand are massively atmospheric, evoking the location of the 1971 movie Vanishing Point.

But you can’t look too closely at the landscape, as one wrong turn can result in an almighty crash – Johnson Valley is not for the faint-hearted.

And neither is Vanishing Point…

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27

No, this location has been specially selected by the BeamNG team to showcase its Baja 1000-inspired roster of new vehicles. The Baja 1000 is a famous race across the rocky deserts of the Californian peninsula, where different classes of cars compete against each other in a gruelling test of man and machine.

And Johnson Valley delivers in this respect. With stony outcrops perfectly suited for BeamNG’s big-engined rock crawlers to expansive dunes ideal for the new Autobello Autobuggy, there’s great variety at play here.

The way sand is kicked up by your car is also worthy of note, it feels like the BeamNG team has made steps to increase the volume and look of dust particles. This applies to tyre smoke on asphalt too, the effect is very impressive.

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27

One criticism I have, however, is that there is a general lack of ambience to Johnson Valley. I’d expect to hear gusts of wind for example, or the distant call of an eagle (it’s a massive cliché, I know). There’s a Baja-style base camp filled with caravans and racing paraphernalia, but the whole place just feels dead.

But this is an accusation you could level at any of BeamNG’s maps. At the end of the day, it’s the driving that matters. It would also be great to have dynamic weather too, but this is understandably a more onerous task.

A Horse with No Name

Using my wheel and pedals (Fanatec CSL DD with WRC Steering Wheel and Fanatec CSL Elite pedals) to test out the map, I found the ruts and bumps a little too much to bear and it was a struggle to keep the vehicles under control.

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
It’s a big ‘ol place, is Johnson Valley

I tried reducing the strength of the force feedback but lost nuance in the handling. Switching to a gamepad was a literal game-changer, however, and to me feels like the optimal way to play BeamNG in Johnson Valley.

More tuning required with my force feedback, perhaps?

In terms of content, Johnson Valley has 20 missions to try out, including stock Crawl, Time Trial, Hypermiling and Delivery style missions, but the v0.27 update also adds two new mission types; Marker (or Fuel) Collection and Evade.

Evade is only available for the West Coast USA map for now, but Marker and Fuel Collection missions are available in Johnson Valley. These are simple icon collection tasks, so a little bit underwhelming at first.

Fortunately, there’s no time limit to finish them. Ideally, they require a degree of map knowledge to pick the quickest routes between the markers.

A hidden gem of Johnson Valley is its Bonneville-style dry lake seabed to the extreme West of the map. This enormous area is completely flat and ideal for testing out the top speed of any of BeamNG’s cars.


BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
Yep, BeamNG’s damage modelling is still present and correct

Do you like horsepower? Do you like suspension? Do you like driving on sand at 100mph? If the answer to all of the above is ‘yes’, then for goodness’ sake stay away from Blackpool Beach.

If you’re playing BeamNG, however, then the SP Dunekicker ticks all the boxes.

The SP Dunekicker is a Baja truck which comes in three flavours; the TT2 spec is an entry-level version with enough power to tackle the toughest of terrain; the ST2 Stadium is ideal for short-course dirt racing; while the TT1 Unlimited is the lairiest option, with a 6.3-litre V8 engine producing nearly 800bhp, rear-wheel drive and enough suspension travel to comfortably run over a house.

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
Three-chamber bypass shock absorbers. Engineering porn.

At times it’s almost too much to control but it’s a ton of fun to throw around. To negotiate the tighter trails around the desert dunes you’ll have to be smooth with your throttle inputs. Its rear-drive layout means once the back-end steps out it can be difficult to gather up again, so prevention is always better than cure.

The ST2 Stadium is based on the type of truck used in the Great American Shortcourse series (formerly known as the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series). This series counts Johnson Valley as one of its venues, where a temporary settlement of Hammertown grows around the travelling paddock. It just so happens there’s a short course in BeamNG’s interpretation of Johnson Valley too, which is a neat detail.

With v0.27, the SP Dunekicker and Bruckell Bastion saloon car share an engine, which now has an updated V8 exhaust note. And it sounds dirty. Quite appropriate considering the amount of sand that emanates from its rear wheels.

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
Maxing out on the dry seabed

The Dunekicker showcases another new addition to BeamNG – bypass shock absorbers. They cleverly use valves to move oil around damper chambers, enabling a long-travel shock absorber to work optimally through a variety of conditions and terrains.

It’s all very complicated but from an engineering perspective hugely interesting.


BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
This probably isn’t safe

The SP Rock Basher is a rock-crawling specialist. Like the SP Dunekicker, this V8-powered buggy has three versions. The Rock Bouncer is an extreme, 700bhp, nitrous-injected monster; the Rock Crawler is a specialised, solid-axle climber; while the Rock Racer is a balance between the two.

I enjoyed my time with the Rock Crawler; it rewards patience and careful line planning when facing Johnson Valley’s gnarliest rock gardens, but doesn’t quite have the ‘wow factor’ of the Dunekicker.

My biggest gripe with the Rock Basher is how easy it is to flip over. Understandably, the cars are performing outrageous feats over seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet it feels like their centre of gravity is far too high.

Of course, it could just be my terrible driving but for me, specialised rock crawling machines should take a lot of provoking before becoming inverted (three drams of whisky is enough for me, however).

The SP Rock Basher also uses BeamNG’s new bypass shock absorbers – and they really get a workout on Johnson Valley’s many taxing crawl lines.


BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
Too much power + 1960’s chassis design = disaster

The Autobello Autobuggy is a newly-selectable version of the teeny Autobello Piccolin. Based on classic dune buggy designs from the 1960’s, the Autobuggy is ideally suited to traversing the sand dunes and light terrain of Johnson Valley.

It does struggle on the rougher sections of the map, however, especially the base Baja Spec Class 5 model and its rather underpowered engine and recalcitrant suspension setup.

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27

Moving onto the Baja Unlimited Class 5 and Baja Extreme models is another matter, though, as the Extreme is almost uncontrollable at times thanks to churning out 821bhp. This, coupled with the fact the Autobuggy has a chassis with 50-year-old design influences make for an interesting ride.


BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
The 525-F-2 Support Vehicle gives off heavy Dakar Rally vibes

Although this vehicle looks simple on the outside, it hides an interesting secret. The Autobello Stambecco boast a first for BeamNG; a Tire Pressure Management System (TPMS).

This clever real-world feat of engineering monitors each tyre’s pressure and inflates it if a puncture occurs. This can also come in handy for negotiating tougher terrain; being able to lower tyre pressures on-the-fly can increase grip on Johnson Valley’s sandy dunes, for example. Then it’s a simple case of re-inflating the tyres when you make it to the highway. Sorry, if you make it to the highway…

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
Tyre pressure adjustments in action

The system is only available on a couple of the Stambecco options, but is definitely useable on the 525-F-2 Support Vehicle. Access the system via the radial menu and ‘Tire Pressures’.

The top-heavy Autobello Stambecco is a utilitarian vehicle with military leanings. Based on the Steyr-Puch Pinzgauer 710M it isn’t particularly quick but does evoke that quirky charm synonymous with many of BeamNG’s vehicles.

Speaking of quirky…


BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
“I’m king of the world!”

The FPU Wydra is the quirkiest of the lot. With 4×4 or 8×8 configurations (yes, 8×8) the Wydra is an amphibious all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Based on a Canadian-built Argo model, the Wydra can conquer anything… just not very quickly.

All of the Wydra’s feature tank-like tracks, so steering is more like applying an handbrake to one side of the vehicle, while handlebars are used in place of a steering wheel.

I found the Wydra to be the least fun of the v0.27’s new vehicles, mostly because of its sluggish nature. It needs the right mission and map to bring its character to the forefront and Johnson Valley is far too expansive for that.

Hands-on with BeamNG.drive’s gravity-defying v0.27 update
Does it float? Only one way to find out!

When BeamNG’s career mode finally approaches a finished state I’m positive this ATV will provide an interesting challenge or two.

However, the Mud Master version of the Wydra is an absolute hoot. Its top speed of 20mph (!) coupled to its oversize wheels can cause one or two issues…


It works exceptionally well on river crossings and extreme mud, however.



Filling stations

The BeamNG team has added functional petrol stations in v0.27. Simply drive up to a petrol pump, stop your vehicle and an on-screen prompt will ask if you want to refuel. Simple, yet effective.

In all honesty though, I don’t think I’ve ever manged to burn through a tank of fuel in BeamNG without destroying my car first…

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
Tyrannos-branded fuel stations are a thing now. Stop by a pump and fill up!

EV One-pedal operation

BeamNG has steadily improved the way EVs are modelled in-game. V0.26 added an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) to all applicable EVs, allowing them to emit a sound at low speed to alert pedestrians.

In v0.27 however, the developer has implemented one-pedal operation to EV cars, mimicking the way EVs can be driven efficiently in the real-world thanks to regenerative braking.

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
New regen braking options

Accessing the BeamNG radial menu will bring up options to increase or decrease the amount of EV regenerative braking used. Regenerative braking uses heat energy from brake discs and stores it to help extend battery life. It also serves to reduce wear and tear on a car’s braking system.

Increasing this to the maximum level in BeamNG will provide a one-pedal driving mode where lifting off the throttle automatically applies the brakes, providing the most efficient solution to deceleration.

You can access these options via the Powertrain sub-menu.

New missions etc

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27
The desert looks ace at night

Six new missions have been added to the West Coast USA map, including a new Evade mission type where you must escape the police and return to your hideout.

East Coast USA and Italy gain two new missions apiece, while there’s a single new mission in the Derby Arenas menu. West Coast USA has a new quarry site and an updated movie studio zone to explore too.

Lastly, 23 Time Trials have now been converted into missions, shoring up BeamNG’s already-extensive list of things to do. Numerous bug fixes and quality-of-life improvements have been added too.

For the full breakdown of improvements check out our V0.27 preview article.

The best?

BeamNG.drive, Johnson Valley, v0.27

I find it extremely difficult not to say this is BeamNG’s best update yet. Johnson Valley is a beautiful place to explore and features ruggedly realistic rock formations and dunes. Thrashing the SP Dunekicker along the dusty trails at sunset is a beautiful thing to behold and oh-so atmospheric.

The five new vehicles will not be to everyone’s tastes, of course, but the variety on offer is unquestionable. BeamNG.drive seemingly improves with every update, creating a single-player experience worth investing your time in. We can’t wait to see where it goes in future.

The physics sandbox just got a little bit sandier.

What’s your favourite aspect of BeamNG’s v0.27 update? Let us know in the comments below.

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