I remember the first time I played Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing in 1994 and discovered that if I crashed my car into something, it showed damage. Immediately I spun my car around and began running the track backwards. The other cars did their best to avoid me, but the algorithm controlling them couldn’t keep up. I was hooked. I never won a race, but the virtual wreckage I created was epic.
BeamNG.drive: It’s All About Crashing
Fast-forward a quarter-century, and now we have BeamNG.drive, a video game where there is nothing to do but crash. BeamNG.drive isn’t a racing game, but a soft-body physics simulator—one that can realistically determine and illustrate damage to deformable objects (like, say, cars) in real time. Realistic handling behavior is modeled as well. The handling is great, but the crashes are spectacular—metal deforms, windows explode, and hubcaps and headlights assemblies go flying. The IIHS has nothing on BeamNG.drive.
I believe the BeamNG developers’ object is to sell the underlying simulation software to other industries, but in the meantime we are left with the most ridiculously awesome driving game the world has ever known. While other driving games penalize crashes, BeamNG.drive encourages them.
Okay, yes, there are some vaguely game-like activities (scenarios in BeamNG-speak) that involve completing time trials or chasing down virtual bad guys. But the best way to enjoy the game, in my opinion, is to get out there and crash.
The Only Limit Is Your Imagination
BeamNG.drive makes this ridiculously easy. All of the maps are open-world and have a free-roam mode. The best way to start is with the original Gridmap, a playground full of blocks, ramps and jumps for you to careen into, over, and off of at the highest possible speeds. If your computer has the electronic fortitude, you can choose one of the photorealistic driving maps—a big American city, a warm Italian town, the Utah countryside, or a tropical island—and let nature take its course (read: slide off the road and into a giant tree). Most maps have dirt roads, trails, and obstacles for off-roading, which, by the way, is particularly well modelled.
For the greatest amount of destruction in the least amount of time, you can simply load up the Cliff map, drive your car off the precipice, and let gravity do the work. The game has recording and slow-mo features, so you can record your epic crashes and watch the destruction in glorious slow motion from as many angles as you please.
There’s plenty more to do than just drive into walls: You can order up AI traffic and create mass chaos. You can conjure up a giant see-through compactor and crush your classic low-rider into a cube. You can shoot your car out of a cannon. Or you can fiddle with gravity, turning it up to the level of the sun, which will pancake most cars before they turn a single wheel.
Want to lift a cement truck several hundred feet into the air, then drop it on a city bus? You can do that. Prefer to pulverize your beautiful 1950s classic by driving it into a giant set of spinning weights? BeamNG.drive has you covered. Have you always longed to drive a sensible economy car into a piano? Done.
Killer Car Selection
BeamNG.drive comes with a wide selection of cars, trucks, and SUVs, all fictional but clearly based on real-world archetypes. They range from the tiny and easily-crumpled Autobello Piccolina, a rear-engine Fiat 500-like creation, to the giant Gavril T-Series heavy-duty truck, which includes both dump and cement mixer bodies. There are 1950s classics, Japanese econoboxes, German performance cars, and even a three-wheeler called the Ibishu Pigeon. (The default vehicle is the hapless Gavril D-Series pickup, which has died a million deaths since BeamNG’s inception in 2015.)
The current version has twenty-six vehicles in several variations, and there are dozens more vehicles, as well as maps and scenarios, available for download on the BeamNG mods site. You can even add crash test dummies (or a Stig) to your cars if you have a particularly morbid bent. And BeamNG.drive comes with the tools to create your own car-killing world.
The Downside: Slow Computers Need Not Apply
Downsides: BeamNG.drive is only available for Windows computers, and it takes a lot of power to access some of the game’s better features, such as multiple AI-controlled vehicles or high-resolution graphics for the more detailed maps. If you want it to run as smoothly as in BeamNG’s demo video, you’ll need a dedicated gaming desktop, as it’ll only run at lower resolutions on your average work laptop (er, if our IT folks are reading this, I’m not saying I know this from personal experience).
The cars are designed to emulate real driving physics, so they can be difficult to control without a steering wheel or a gamepad. Most objects outside of the car are fixed and non-deformable, so it is possible to wrap your 18-wheel tractor-trailer around a rather flimsy light pole or total your sedan by running into the tables at a sidewalk cafe.
Setting up that epic crash you want to simulate can require a lot of prep time for a very brief bit of action. It’s easier—and less costly—to just watch one of the YouTube channels devoted to BeamNG.drive crashes, of which there are several. (This is one of my favorites.)
Also, it’s technically not complete—this is considered an “early access” game and a work in progress, and the team is constantly putting out new (free) updates with more cars, better scenery, and under-the-hood improvements. That said, instructions are minimal and the interface has a pretty steep learning curve—you’ll need to do some Googling to get the most out of the game.
Minimum system requirements for BeamNG.drive
- Windows 7 SP1
- Intel Core i3-6300 3.8 GHz or AMD FX 6300 3.5 GHz
- 8 GB RAM
- AMD Radeon HD 7750 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti GPU
- 15 GB hard drive space
- DirectX 11
Recommended system requirements for BeamNG.drive
- Windows 10 64-bit
- Intel Core i7-6700 3.4 GHz or AMD Ryzen 7 1700 3.0GHz
- 16 GB RAM
- AMD Radeon R9 290 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 GPU
- 20 GB hard drive space