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Jade Empire

As connoisseurs of Martial Arts flicks will know, there's always at least one scene where the hero finds himself trapped in an old Chinese teahouse as 300-plus evil goons come crashing through the sugar glass windows. Like masturbation and guilt, they're an inseparable combination.

Only it's this fan-pleasing scenario (the teahouse that is, not the self-abuse) that forms the basis for one of the defining moments in Jade Empire, the stunning new role-player from the same people behind Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. There's you, the hero; him, the clan boss and demon in disguise; and them, the dozen or so chaps in silk pyjamas, all itching to smash up as much of the teahouse's destructible scenery as possible. And each other. Obviously.

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Better yet, you get to play it all out in glorious real-time combat. Rather than rehashing KOTOR's turn-based combat mechanics, Jade Empire is full on combo-thrashing madness. And having fully tested it out for ourselves, we can safely say it betters both Sudeki and Fable in terms of style and control.

The game takes place in a fantasy land rich in Oriental style and imagery. Selecting from one of seven unique characters, players must travel the length and breadth of Jade Empire's dreamy terrain in a bid to combat endless evil minions and their supernatural overlord. All good, solid RPG stuff, and while we daren't go any further for risk of spoiling it for you, it should more than adequately fill the plot-driven void left since KOTOR shuffled out of our lives.

Where Jade Empire really pushes the envelope is in terms of character customisation. While the seven starting characters all have their own physical traits, it's how you upgrade them during the game that really shapes their power and abilities, specifically when it comes to learning the 30-plus combat styles. Separated into three schools - hand-to-hand, magic and weaponry - each one has its own unique moves and features, and can be instantly switched between during combat to create some incredible combination attacks. Imagine switching from Legendary Fist to Storm Dragon to Long Sword style in one smooth chain for some special-looking combat. And before you start worrying, don't - we found switching styles as easy as blinking. The combat really is that sublime.

So expect something big and special from Jade Empire, like a game so accomplished it even squeezes a quality, top-down 2D shooter minigame between it's huge, heaving graphical bosoms. In a hardcore RPG. That, even action fans will go for. So lads, prepare to tuck in.

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