Drive to Survive in Roguelike Heading Out Adventure

Heading Out
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

Developer Serious Sim does a lot of things really well with its Heading Out game, but explaining what it actually does on their Steam pages is not one of them. There are a few negative reviews on Steam from people who mistakenly believed that Heading Out was a racer, or an open world exploration adventure or maybe something else entirely. But Serious Sim can probably be forgiven because describing how Heading Out plays is no easy feat. However, we will do our best here because it’s really an interesting title that people will probably enjoy if they know what they are getting into.

So, Heading Out is basically a roguelike title like Frostrain, The Curious Expedition Series, Faster Than Light or a host of others that follow that format. The majority of the playtime will be spent looking at a large overview map of the United States and plotting which highways to take in order to drive to the next city on your journey, eventually reaching your final destination somewhere across the country for each run. You will need to balance things like fuel consumption, driver tiredness, money spent and miles to travel in making decisions about where to go next. You can lose your current run if you go broke, if your car takes too much damage without repairs or if you fall asleep at the wheel.

Like most roguelikes, there is also something chasing you, which spurs you to keep driving forward and not rest too much in the various cities and towns you visit along the way. In this case, the thing chasing you is not something physical like the blizzard in Frostrain, but instead it’s kind of a vague concept of “your fears” that are slowly creeping up across the country behind you. If your fears catch you, then you have one more chance to outrun them in a chase sequence. If you lose that, then your current run is over.

In addition to just the map screen, one of the biggest treats in Heading Out is the fact that you get to encounter some really strange people and places as you journey across the country on this really strange road trip. The game pauses in order to let those story events play out. Often times these encounters start off kind of strange and get even weirder as the story unfolds, sometimes giving you choices about what you want to do next to advance that encounter.

At the end of each encounter in Heading Out, you will be given one final choice which will affect your gameplay, often providing either a bonus or negative status for the rest of your current run. Almost all of the encounters are strange and even mesmerizing, with a sort of Americana or even bizarre type of feel for most of them. Experiencing those story events really elevate Heading Out to the next level and are not to be missed.

Finally, there are driving sequences too, which makes sense given that Heading Out is all about making a series of road trips. What happens is that cops will sometimes catch you speeding and decide to give chase. Or, sometimes people will see you along the road and challenge you to a race because your character becomes increasingly famous as you adventure in an outlaw kind of way. Escaping the cops will let you continue your journey while winning a race against civilians earns you money which you need to buy fuel, medicine, coffee and other things to help extend your run.

The racing sequences are pretty interesting and stylized, with almost everything presented in a black and white, hand-drawn style. What happens in a race is that a cassette tape of music plays, and you are shown how long until the song ends. If you are in first place when the tape cuts out, you win. The driving mechanics are responsive, and you can earn different cars for subsequent runs that change those handling characteristics slightly, generally for the better. In addition to racing down the highways and dodging traffic, there are also shortcuts that pop up which are designated by road signs. These shortcuts are generally smaller, country roads which are more challenging to drive on, but will easily put you very far ahead in a race or a chase if you successfully navigate them. I went from last to first place more than once in races after following a shortcut.

The overall plot of Heading Out is kind of layered, and you will learn more about what is really happening after each successful run. On the surface, you are a hotshot driver who is zooming across the country in order to reach a specific city so that you can challenge the top driver in the country to a final race. But things are not what they seem to be, as you will soon learn. For one, the world is set in a kind of 1970’s version of the United States, but one with a good mix of modern problems. For another, the final person you are trying to reach for that last race has a car just like yours, and each time you are about to “win” the final race with them, something always happens, and you are reset back to the beginning to start another run. Veteran players of strange stories like this will likely start to figure out what is going on, but it’s still a wild ride getting there.

To top things off, there is a great soundtrack that drives Heading Out. Each and every driving sequence features one of those songs. They are pretty good indie tunes and really set the mood for those races. The soundtrack is also available for sale on Steam if players really enjoy those tunes, but in any case, they really do fit in well with the game and especially the racing segments.

Heading Out is available for less than $20 on Steam and is a really good deal at that price. There is about 10 or so hours of gameplay for a full playthrough, which will consist of multiple runs across the country. There is some replayability too, since you are unlikely to encounter every story event in a single playthrough. You can also play again and see if making different choices affects the outcome. Heading Out is certainly a unique experience for any player looking for something completely different, especially in terms of roguelikes. It’s kind of a great American road trip title, that also happens to be a trip to play.

Turn the key on this one. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you know what to expect on that strange road ahead.

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