Which number is the best number?

Here's a hint, it's four. No really! Find out why inside

Yet another win for four! Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies isn’t miles ahead of its cohorts, but it is still the most critically praised. The higher reviews may have been influenced by the move from the PlayStation to the PlayStation 2, as anytime a more powerful system is utilized there is at least a bit of built-in excitement.


Above: Ace Combat 6 looked beautiful, but was only the third highest reviewed game in the series

But that isn’t necessarily the case. Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, is the first game to appear on a current gen system, but its average score is four points less than Ace Combat 5 on the PS2.

Winner: FOUR

The Street Fighter series is a tough one to get a clear reading on. There have been so many non-numbered games that pulling out only the original four numbered iterations seems meaningless. Again, four is the winner, but it’s a bit of an unfair comparison. The SNES version of Street Fighter II has a lower average score, but this was not necessarily a game meant for the SNES – this was the game that revolutionized 2D fighters and was largely responsible for the popularity of arcades in the early ‘90s.


Above: The winner may have won only because we have a poor dataset, but it’s still a damn good game

Our trepidation doesn’t mean that Street Fighter IV isn’t a great game, well deserving of its average score of 94 (compared to SFII’s score of 88). And by our criteria, we have to award it the win.

Winner: FOUR

Dynasty Warriors is another impressively long running series with a lot of consistency. The scores start to drop off after Dynasty Warriors 4, with the latest iteration, Dynasty Warriors 6, receiving the worst critical response. From one to four, however, there is little variation.

The result is a tie between Dynasty Warriors, Dynasty Warriors 3 and Dynasty Warriors 4, which all received average scores of 78. Way to keep it mediocre!

Tie: ONE, THREE & FOUR

Based on the series we chose, the best number is… FOUR! Congratulations, you’re our new favorite number!

Now, given the presence of many unaccounted for variables, and the limited scope of our test (many of the series we tested haven’t even made it past four games), it’s hard for us to say definitively that the fourth game in a series tends to be the best, and any explanation for the trend is mere speculation. Perhaps it takes three games to find the perfect formula - one to introduce the concept and two to hone it.

Consider a series like Gears of War. The first game was great, and the second equally so, but pretty similar. We can probably assume that the not-yet-announced third game will deviate from the first two to some extent, in order to keep the series fresh, but not so much as to alienate anyone. If a fourth game comes along, however, there’s a chance that it will appear on the next generation of consoles. With new technology and three existing games, no one would be surprised if the creative direction were readdressed and the gameplay radically changed – possibly for the better.

Of course, that’s just speculation based on a tenuous set of results. Maybe there is no correlation between a game’s number and its quality, but it was a fun idea to entertain, wasn’t it?

May 15, 2009

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Associate Editor, Digital at PC Gamer
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