How BeamNG is more than just a physics sandbox

Ross McGregor
How BeamNG is more than just a physics sandbox

BeamNG.Drive (commonly shortened to BeamNG) was originally released by developers BeamNG GmbH as a tech demo way back in 2013 and has been available as a Steam Early Access title since 2015. Its unique selling proposition is a soft-body physics model that creates realistic-looking vehicle crashes.

I use the word ‘vehicle’ more loosely to encompass a huge part of BeamNG’s success, which has been its mod scene. Various extra cars, boats and even planes have been created by their active modding community. The development team even actively supports and encourages the mod scene.

The diverse range of vehicles on offer also demonstrates the title’s adaptable physics engine. However, although it’s updated regularly, after six years of Early Access, it still doesn’t seem like BeamNG is close to a full release. Still, there’s more to it than simply being a physics sandbox, and it can entertain casual gamers and sim fans alike.

BeamNG off-road pick-up racing
Updates appear regularly and occasionally include new cars, such as this Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series-inspired effort.

Campaigns and Scenarios

When it originally entered Steam Early Access, BeamNG was a much sparser experience than it is today. In the early days, there were no extensive campaign or scenario options, so essentially what you were getting was a driving simulator with no clear objectives other than to have fun and experiment.

Now, these modes offer hours of entertainment as the player is assigned missions with a time limit and the occasional forced puncture or untethered cargo to keep you on your toes. My personal favourite mission was Hustle & Bustle, where you take the role of a bus-driving movie stuntman.

Since I remember the joy of playing Stuntman (2002) on PlayStation 2, the prospect of a re-imagined version using the BeamNG engine is enough to get me squeezing into my Evel Knievel star-spangled jumpsuit.

Just me?

BeamNG bus
The stunt bus, post-stunt. Not taking fares currently.

For a game focused on its damage model, it’s weird that many of the missions want you to avoid totalling your car. Fortunately, underneath all the fancy crash physics lurks a half-decent driving model, so it doesn’t feel like a chore to do these seemingly menial ‘A to B’ missions.

Think of it as a Euro Truck Simulator or a SpinTires kind of cathartic experience.

I recently drove a modded front-wheel-drive car on a rally stage, and it felt properly nice to drive. I could lean the car into ruts and cambers for more grip, and with a little bit of tinkering, I think BeamNG’s game engine could power a tidy rally game.

Currently, there are only four campaign strands available, and they can all be completed in a couple of hours. In my opinion, they work well as a brief introduction to BeamNG, but not as an expansive gaming experience.

Scenarios are generally shorter goal-based driving missions that use a greater variety of BeamNG’s maps and vehicles, and again, they’re great fun, but they hardly provide the longevity required from a full game.

Rallying in BeamNG
A rally scenario through the deserts of Utah. I definitely didn’t barrel roll seven times after this. No siree Bob.

Mods and Automation

Currently, there are 209 custom scenarios on the ‘Mods’ page on the official BeamNG website. There are also 502 combined terrains, levels, and maps, 829 different vehicles, and over 10,000 (yes, ten thousand!) creations from Automation – which is essentially a separate vehicle-creation game that allows players to create their own cars, import them into BeamNG, and then destroy them.

Driving them is also an option, which is a cool feature, but perhaps limited to the few people with the time, talent and dedication to create bespoke vehicles.

BeamNG.Drive is unlike any other game
BeamNG.Drive is unlike any other game.

Legal mods, which are essentially those that don’t feature content copied from other titles, can also be downloaded directly from the official BeamNG website. There are some stunning maps available such as Altitude, with its awesome banked hairpin bends, and some impressive vehicles to drive on them, such as the borderline insane FR17 single-seater.

That’s not to say there isn’t a wide variety of cars to pick from in vanilla BeamNG, because there is, but more wouldn’t hurt.

This huge depth of content is an indicator of the enthusiasm the BeamNG community has for the game, and one would assume this trend will continue in future. The developers also actively encourage modders and feature community content on their official social media platforms.

B-25 Mitchell in BeamNG
Is it a bird, is it a plane? It’s a plane, obviously. A B-25 Mitchell to be precise, and available on BeamNG’s website to download! Watch as I do a bit of stunt-flying in the rather ‘shoogly’ B-25.


Speaking of mods, one important aspect of most driving sims, namely multiplayer, has been recently added to BeamNG.

BeamNG is a resource-intensive sim (it’s all those physics, innit), but for one or two players multiplayer works smoothly. As soon as more cars are introduced, however, there’s a catastrophic lag at present.

It’s a shame, as messing around with your mates online using BeamNG’s damage model is hilarious. In this respect, BeamNG is like Wreckfest, as it satisfies one’s lust for carnage, albeit with less advanced driving physics.

In the future, hopefully, the BeamNG team can expand upon the work done by the modders and iron out some of the bugs, as the potential for co-operative (and not so cooperative) gameplay is huge.

BeamNG Multiplayer
Myself & Traxion’s very own John Munro testing out multiplayer crash physics. They work! We were playing a cops & robbers game here, not sure who won. Looks like a draw…

The Future

BeamNG is a title packed with potential.

Like thousands of others, as soon as I saw the soft-body collision physics in action during the early tech demos, I was hooked.

I had to own this game!

However, in all the years’ I’ve owned BeamNG, I’ve apparently only amassed 23 hours of playing time.

If this figure is accurate, then why is it the case?

Potential. It’s that word again. BeamNG has so much potential.

It’s a tad frustrating after so many years that only a short single-player mode is available, and that multiplayer isn’t quite there yet. It makes you wonder if it will ever attain the status as a proper, fully fleshed out game experience.

BeamNG Ibishu Covet crashed
Bollard vs Ibishu Covet. That’s a win for the bollard there, I’d say.

Essentially, I’ve been playing it in short bursts; enjoying a brief foray into its unique physics playground, experimenting with mods, playing through the single-player campaigns, even dabbling with multiplayer.

Then, when the scratch has been itched, it remains unplayed for a long time. Its glacial rate of progress through Steam Early Access has echoes of Wreckfest’s torrid development for me, but that turned out pretty well in the end. One hopes BeamNG does too.

Concrete dates for a full release are sketchy, but I feel the attention that the development team give their game, like regular updates with encouragement for modders, suggests that it’ll definitely happen.

Maybe one day.

I’ll get that jumpsuit dry-cleaned just in case…

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