Five to Try: Google's Gboard arrives on Android, and Retro City Rampage offers 8-bit mayhem

Be sure to grab this week's biggest new app and game releases.

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Even without a proper app submission freeze like on Apple’s App Store, the impending arrival of Christmas means we probably won’t see many high-profile Android app and game releases for the next couple weeks. Our Five to Try column will take the rest of the month off as well, but not before setting you up with a few new choice releases to grab right now.

Gboard is Google’s revitalized keyboard app, and it brings in-frame web search so you can quickly pull up and share info, emoji, GIFs, and other details without leaving the conversation. Facebook’s dedicated Events app is also new this week, along with a trio of intriguing games: faux-retro action game Retro City Rampage DX, historical adventure 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, and SMS-inspired text quest Lifeline: Halfway to Infinity. Try a few fresh apps, enjoy the holidays, and we’ll bring you even more picks once January rolls around.


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Just tap the little arrow for in-keyboard web search.

When Google’s Gboard app hit iOS back in May, many Android users were incredulous. After all, why should they get the good stuff first? Google said that the keyboard app’s tweaks would come to Android in time, and sure enough, they’re here in the rebranded Google Keyboard via update.

Gboard brings a dedicated web search bar right to your keyboard, letting you tap right into Google’s engine to pull up vital information without leaving your text message or email reply. You can search for nearby restaurants, sports scores, emojis, GIFs, YouTube videos, and plenty more, and then send that info into your message or email with a tap. It saves you the hassle of needing to switch between apps or try to awkwardly copy and paste info from a website or app.

Just a heads-up, however: Google is currently rolling out this update to the existing Google Keyboard app, but it may not be available in the Play Store for everyone right now. If you don’t want to wait, you can download and sideload a Google-signed APK file from APK Mirror, although you might not want to take the risk of downloading it from other sources if you don’t know and trust them. Or you can just wait for the Play Store, which should have it any time now.

Retro City Rampage DX

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Classic look, classic open-world fun.

Rockstar Games has ported several Grand Theft Auto games to Android (along with last week’s prep school counterpart, Bully), but if you’re looking for another hit of thrilling open-world action on your phone, check out Retro City Rampage DX ($5). It’s essentially a “demake” of the classic GTA formula, letting you freely roam an urban metropolis as you steal cars, pummel random strangers, and complete missions—albeit with an 8-bit aesthetic. 

Retro City Rampage DX looks like it could have fit on an NES, even if the scope of the game itself is much larger than anything from that era. Even with simplified graphics, the open playground of possibilities is super fun here, and this indie game has the same kind of biting humor as GTA, along with loads of pop culture references and a 1980s feel.

Events from Facebook

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Find local events, or just manage the ones your friends invite you to.

Does Facebook really need to put another app on your phone? Probably not, but if you’re a bit of a social butterfly and want something meatier to manage all of your upcoming obligations, you might get some use out of Events from Facebook. As the name suggests, this dedicated app is focused primarily on the event invitations you receive via the social network, creating a feed that you can scroll through for updates and reminders.

However, it’s also a better way to find nearby public events, with plenty of concerts, plays, and other experiences listed in the area of your choosing. The app itself doesn’t look like it got much of a Material Design upgrade after moving over from iOS, and Play Store reviewers are slamming it as a result, but Events from Facebook could be useful if you’re ever on the hunt for activities. Hopefully it won’t become mandatory in time, like Messenger did.

1979 Revolution: Black Friday

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Snap photos, relive the drama, and get a history lesson in the process.

If you like Telltale’s episodic games—the streamlined point-and-click adventure series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones—then you might dig 1979 Revolution: Black Friday ($5). Like those games, you’ll choose dialogue options and explore environments, with your choices determining the course of the narrative. However, while still pretty intense and action-packed, it has a very different kind of subject matter.

This historical fiction game is based on real-life accounts of the Iranian Revolution, as your photojournalist character Reza is torn between the opposing sides, as well as family and friends. You’ll see sights and events based on actual past happenings, and can learn quite a bit about Iran and the timeframe along the way. The earlier PC version was widely praised for its storytelling and subject matter, and now it’s all here on your phone, although it seems like you’ll need a pretty powerful handset to run it.

Lifeline: Halfway to Infinity

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New messages arrive throughout the day like SMS notifications.

The original Lifeline kicked off a resurgence of text-based, choose-your-own-adventure games on mobile, with its smartphone home allowing you to play in “real time” as events unfold across days. Three Minute Games’ series spawned a standalone sequel and a holiday spinoff by the end of last year, but if you haven’t noticed, the franchise has exploded in recent months and now spans six different entries.

Actually, make that seven. Lifeline: Halfway to Infinity ($2) just launched on the Play Store, and astronaut Taylor (the first game’s character) is in another predicament—this time trapped on a spaceship with a mysterious alien of some sort. You’ll correspond with Taylor as you try to guide him or her to survival by responding to questions. Original Lifeline author Dave Justus is also back for this fresh sequel, so if you loved the debut, Halfway to Infinity is a chat you’ll probably want to have.

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