Heading Out is a stylish, narrative-focused driving game inspired by classic road flicks of the '70s and '80s

If you've ever seen the 1971 cult-classic film Vanishing Point, Heading Out will be almost immediately familiar: It's a stylish "narrative-adventure driving game" inspired by great road flicks of the past that puts players behind the wheel of a mighty muscle car and on the run from the police and the ever-present fear that's never far behind.

Despite its look, Heading Out isn't just a driving game. Running the open road is obviously a big part of it, but the story matters too. Each leg of your journey will take you through encounters with locals and cops, impromptu races, and radio station interludes, before ending in a town or city where you'll gas up, stock up, get some sleep, and have some brief adventures before heading back out to the highway. 

It's not a management game—these decisions are usually simple and binary, like serving as a ringbearer at a roadside wedding or helping a nervous bride slip away—but properly handling your time and resources is essential. You need to stay fed, gassed, and juiced up, but you can't stay in any one place for too long lest the police or your fear—in this case a literal force, represented by a blood-red trail slowly consuming the road behind you—catch up and halt your journey before you reach your destiny.

"It's not the destination, it's the journey" is a cliche that really holds true here. As you race across America, your legend as the Interstate Jackalope grows, and it has a real impact on the game through dialog options and comments about your exploits from a radio host chronicling your journey. Choices about your background made at the start of the game—where you come from, why you're running, that sort of thing—will also help shape that narrative flavor.

All of it matters, because those details really help Heading Out nail its very specific vibe. The visual style is a big part of that too: The game is mostly greyscale, police lights and other racers being the brightly-colored exceptions, and the narrative interludes are supported with comic-like panels. The soundtrack is a great match for the action, and it's integrated into the game in a way I really like: When racing with some local hotrod hothead, the winner is determined by who's in front when the song on the radio comes to an end. It's a simple and elegant idea that fits perfectly well with Heading Out's "just keep driving" motif.

The importance of the narrative is clear—the Heading Out Steam page says it "addresses racism, mental health (anxiety, depression), inequality, and other social issues," and your reputation will be shaped around choices you make throughout your run—and I wondered at first if players more interested in the adventure than the action might be stymied by the driving segments. 

After spending some time with it, I don't think that's a worry: There are three levels of difficult and I found the default setting quite manageable, and those who really don't want to be bothered can opt for a "story" mode that should get them through to the next town with minimal fuss or muss.

Which isn't a guarantee of success: After a couple of bad calls (and a misclick on the interstate map that led me directly into trouble) my first run came to an untimely end, leaving me a virtual unknown, my story unfinished and untold.

Even so, I do wonder whether Heading Out's take on a very specific sub-genre of film—the retro automotive action flick—will limit its broader appeal. Having played with it, I have a hard time thinking of Heading Out as a racing game: To me it feels more like an open-road adventure game, where the story, not the wheel time, is what really matters. That might be a little off-putting for people looking for a more straight-up racing game, but even though it's an unusual formula, based on what I've seen so far it works: The road beckons, and win or lose I want to see what's ahead.

Heading Out is set to launch on Steam on May 7. 

Thanks for the memories, Kowalski.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.