BeamNG.Drive Is More Than a Crashing Game, It’s a Shockingly Good Driving Simulator
I’m struck by how great the clutch simulation is. Seriously, no other game comes close.
Most of us know about BeamNG.Drive as “the fun crashing game” with wild soft-body physics and ultra-realistic, er, crashing. I have burned many, many hours on this game with a keyboard and mouse just crashing into stuff at absurd speeds or trying to link a futile drift, but I never bothered to try my Fanatec Clubsport force feedback wheel until the most recent update of the game. With my rig fired up and my expectations set low, I fired BeamNG up and gave it a whirl.
My typical haunt on BeamNG is the West Coast map, which is a really great scaled-down model of the San Francisco Bay Area. It includes SF itself, some redwoods, some bridges, and most importantly: a really decent race track. Normally, I’d be full speed crashing into stuff and entertaining myself with watching the engine fly out of the car and doing the most damage possible. This time, we’re gonna seriously feel the driving physics out!
I set myself up with the Civetta Bolide 390 GT4, and started getting my wheel set up. My force feedback settings were nothing special, I just set the FFB pretty strong because I like a heavy wheel, but I left the more complex settings alone until I could get a feel for the game. Of course, my Fanatec Clubsport V2.5, Clubsport Pedals, and Thrustmaster TH8RS shifter all talked to the game just fine, and setup was a real breeze. Unfortunately, the OLED display and LED lights on my wheel (called ITM by Fanatec) didn’t talk to the game, so no bougie sim racing for me!
Immediately, I’m struck by how great the clutch simulation is. Seriously, no other game comes close. Sure, you can dump the clutch like an imbecile, but you can also slip it like a real car, and slip it pretty accurately. Of course, you don’t get clutch feel like in real life but I pretty much access the same neurons for when I’m driving stick IRL. Since BeamNG simulates all parts of the car as separate masses that bolt together, have their own inertia, and have their own physics, it even nails down how the drivetrain can buck if you’re un-smooth or wheel-hop on a rough launch. Good start from the “crash simulator” here!
Setting off with the excellent-sounding Civetta (a replica of an old V8 Ferrari, I think?) I got around the first turn slowly and hit it down the small straight into a massive left-hand huck for the second proper turn which flows into a right-hand decreasing radius turn. This is where the lightbulbs were screaming bright: This game feels insane!
The force feedback is shockingly strong if a little bit clippy and overpowering. It doesn’t feel intensely refined but it communicates plenty to your fingers. I do enjoy that it uses the maximum strength of my wheel, and it damn near lifts me out of my seat when I smack a wall or even have a hefty spin. But, what it does well is have great response or “feel” for when the tires are slipping, or for rotation when the car is sliding. It also has a linear build-up of effort with no weirdness or peaks.
More impressively, there is a je ne sais quoi to the force feedback, like any of the great driving simulators. It’s easy to place the car, it’s accurate, and it’s just as fun to do tons of laps as any other sim! I’d wager, even more fun than some (cough, iRacing). The cool part is that there are a few extra dimensions that no other sim has.
For one, when you crash, you totally wreck out. The full soft-body physics offers some incredible possibilities. You can rip a wheel off on a stray bit of debris, knock your alignment off on a violent bump, or damage cooling components which eventually leads to engine failure. Unlike other games where damage feels contrived, BeamNG feels natural and “realistic.” Well, about as realistic we can imagine 180 mph+ crashes to be.
For two, the game simulates the granularity of cars with gusto. An entire modding sub-menu exists where you can add turbos or superchargers, change suspension parts, body panels, engines, gearboxes; pretty much anything on the car. On top of that, you can fine-tune every part. Stuff like gear ratios, tire pressures, rev limiters, and rev limiter frequency, nitrous application, spring rates, sway bars, dampers, basically as deep as any of the great simulators.
For three, you aren’t restricted to the track. You head into the paddock, and straight-up leave. Explore the open world, and it isn’t just the West Coast map. BeamNG has a ton of different huge maps to explore, and you can hop into a basic Jeep or a rock-crawling SUV and go wheeling in Utah. Take that, iRacing.
I will admit that I tried a previous version of the game with my old Thrustmaster TX wheel and it did not feel nearly as resolved. That could be the wheel or the version of the game, and it doesn’t help that the Fanatec Clubsport is the finest belt-driven FFB wheel out there, so results may just vary. But with the infinitely configurable force feedback, I’m sure you can refine any wheel into something that’s fun and fluid.
What do you think of my assessment? Should I shut up and play the real sims? Let me know in the comments.