Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Xbox One
I wrote about my jealousy of PC people and their ability to play PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds last year, but thanks to the release of the Xbox version in November, I can now enjoy the same extremely tense and extremely frustrating experience as my friends on the computer. Unfortunately, the Xbox version was practically unplayable at launch; it had so many bugs that there was about a week where I couldn’t even set foot on its massive, Hunger Games-style nightmare island without the game completely crashing (often leading to me being executed while I waited for it to load back up). Now, though, after a bunch of updates and patches, I’m happy to say that PUBG mostly works on Xbox. Oh sure, it’s missing a lot of the cool features of the PC version and it still occasionally crashes at very inopportune moments, but this is a good time for anyone who was turned off by the launch to parachute back in to the Xbox version—and not just because Xbox players are getting too good and I need some more people to play who I can still beat. [Sam Barsanti]
Reigns: Her Majesty
I’d rank the original Reigns among the most ingenious mobile games ever made, a subversive play on the addictive, reductive power of Tinder that applies the app’s “swipe left, swipe right” process to running a fantasy kingdom. You rule from your throne, delivering yes or no answers to a near-endless series of requests from the church, military, aristocracy, and a vast cast of self-interested weirdos. If any one institution gets too angry—or empowered—you’ll find your reign cut short, so the game plays out as an intense amoral balancing act. The developers teamed up with longtime games writer Leigh Alexander for their follow-up, which just released last week and is a fantastic spin on the original. This time you’re playing as a queen (hence the subtitle), and that change is used to great effect to comment on gender dynamics and the extraneous, shallow bullshit women have to put up with, even when they’re the goddamn queen. The difference is especially profound if you’ve played the original, but anyone can hop into Her Majesty and get just as much out of it. It’s available now on iOS and PCs. [Matt Gerardi]
Let’s not mince words: There are far more impressive and well-designed mobile apps out there for people who enjoy word puzzles. But in terms of inexplicably addictive qualities, it’s been quite some time since I encountered something like Word Cookies, a free download (or $1.99 to get it without ads in between levels, which quickly becomes worth it) for your iOS that makes the process of word jumbles into a hypnotic experience that routinely makes entire subway rides go by in the blink of an eye. It’s beyond generic: a certain number of letters appear in random order at the bottom of the screen, and you have to draw connections between them to form words, the total number of which are listed in blank spaces above. If you find extra words beyond the number required to pass the level, they go in the “extra words” cookie jar, which eventually fills and can be redeemed for points—points which you can use for hints if the going gets rough. (I held out as long as possible, through several hundred levels, before hitting a wall and sacrificing 25 of my thousands of precious coins to get a clue.) You can reshuffle the letters to spark new ideas in your brain, but that’s about it. It’s as basic as can be, and yet it has become a daily absorption for me, the strange amalgam of generic and pedestrian elements that nonetheless add up to a rewarding, time-swallowing word puzzle. Words Cookies (or “Words With Cookies” as I tend to think of it) triggered a fleeting exploration into other word puzzles, but none have its thunderingly simple and direct appeal. Download it, play the embarrassingly easy first few levels, and see if it assimilates you into its Borg-like fan base, too. [Alex McLevy]