That word has probably sparked a multitude of thoughts in your mind: you likely think it’s either a redundant aggregate of quantified qualitative statements, or the most comprehensive database of review scores from a selection of the biggest and best sites on the net. Regardless of your opinion, what it does do is provide a useful tool in determining the median reception of a title amongst a selection of sources the company deems representative of the “gaming press”.
But what can we glean from the service’s scores when taken in batches? What do the top 20 games from across all of the three home consoles say about the current landscape of interactive entertainment? Are there any patterns that begin to form, any discoveries we might make from the clinical precision of numbers on spreadsheets?
At the time of writing – 4th September 2011 – the following are the top 20 games in the Metacritic archives…
So what do these numbers mean in a wider context than simply the best games by platform?
In terms of high scoring exclusive titles by system, Nintendo’s mini-monolith comes out on top, featuring eleven games, PlayStation 3 trails behind with five and the Xbox 360 in third with four. These figures mean one of two things, either that the Wii is a haven for creativity far beyond Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, or that the company has had to rely on their own titles to provide their critically acclaimed output without the backing of third parties.
I’d argue it’s the latter any day of the week and the statistics would back up the point. Grand Theft Auto IV, BioShock, Mass Effect 2 are all conspicuously absent from the Wii when they appear on both of the other consoles. One might also extrapolate that if the Wii had matched the 360 and PS3 in terms of power from the very beginning, Nintendo would be leading the charge in terms of quality and widespread appeal amongst core gamers. What does this therefore say about the WiiU? Could this metric be a solid argument for Nintendo’s new console?
The numbers also confirm the long-held argument that new IP is being marginalised by sequels, though here they shed a little more light on why. The Wii once again comes first for top 20 rated titles not based on an existing IP with five entries, the PS3 is second again with four and the 360 third with three. These numbers are a little fudged by my definition of “new property”; DJ Hero I counted as a new IP but Red Dead Redemption, Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Super Mario Galaxy I didn’t, for instance, though arguably they are totally unlike their predecessors.
Titles like Super Mario Galaxy help Nintendo lead in our analysis.
IPs divided by party also give a clear indication as to which console manufacturer is creating or securing the highest rated exclusives. Once again Nintendo wins the day with Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel taking spot one and two amongst their releases, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2 being the second best title on Sony’s hardware and Gears Of War and Halo 3 coming in at 8th and 10th amongst the American company’s portfolio.
Now by this point one might feel that Microsoft’s console isn’t doing too well in terms of games quality by platform but in actuality the reverse is true. We see by adding the total Metascores of the top 20 together that the Xbox 360 is by far the most critically well received line-up, collectively scoring 1880, the PS3 nabbing second with 1870 and the Wii massively falling behind with 1813, lacking a number of mid-nineties scoring titles. From here then it’s easy to see that Microsoft may not be the best at securing exclusives or creating a huge catalogue of quality first party titles, but it is home to the largest quantity of high profile third party titles.
Another confirmation we can pull from the numbers is that Japanese companies have lost their collective grip on the Western audience. The Xbox 360 features eighteen titles in its top 20 made in Europe or the United States, the PlayStation 3 sixteen and the Wii has just twelve, likely due to the high number of first party titles that feature so prominently.
It’s useful to bear in mind that Metacritic is indeed largely an aggregate of Western-centric sites and is therefore a perfect service to discover the opinions of gamer “taste-makers” in Europe and North America. What might shock though is just how few titles on the list are made in Europe. With the exception of Grand Theft Auto IV which is overall the most critically acclaimed game of this generation of hardware, it’s only the LittleBigPlanet and DJ Hero franchises, plus downloadable Art Of Balance, that find a place in the Top 20 across the three platforms. Perhaps the question on everyone’s lips right now should not be “why are Japanese games not grabbing Western gamers?” but “why aren’t European games grabbing Western gamers?”
Of course these results need to be taken with a pinch of salt. The critic scores that appear on this list are chosen by Metacritic, which may well have an effect on overall scores. Still, the numbers speak for themselves: Microsoft’s console may not be a haven to new ideas but it’s doing the best critically at time of writing and the opposite can be said of the Wii, with Sony’s effort consistently being a middle ground. Does this say something about the medium as a whole? I think so. Quality may not necessarily depend on radical new ideas as it once did but the sequels that are produced are of such a high calibre that this may not necessarily matter any more.