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Jade Empire

One game, two continents, one enormous preview...

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The first thing to strike you about Jade is just how nice it really looks in action. Any static screen shot can be made to look good, but in the flesh, the Jade engine has undeniable Eastern qualities of elegance, beauty and simplicity. The environments are nicely realised with a highly authentic Chinese flavour and once the action starts in earnest, it handles multiple combats and enemies with sublime ease. At first, like most third-person fighters, the camera system take a little getting used to, but you rapidly acquire the thumb control necessary to ensure you always have the optimum view.

So passing through a few rather non-descript NPCs, we're soon picking a fight with a local Bandit Chief and his bad boys, who come vaulting out of the gallery to present our first battle royale. You can rapidly flick between fighting styles on the D-Pad and opting for twin blades we're soon trading blows with the bandit boss and his henchmen in true Kill Bill style. The minions are mindless though fairly numerous and relatively easily dispatched with a combination of armed and unarmed attacks. Block, hack, slash, evade, shatter some furniture, batter the destructible environments and also hilariously snatch up a pair of hams to deal some destruction and we're soon confronting the boss bandit himself. He's a little tougher than his minions though and so expending a little slo-mo focus, Wu leaps over his head and delivers some tasty combos into his back, which soon brings him crashing to his knees.

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Game over and time for some well earned R&R? Not a chance... as a monkish looking character materialises backed by a giant demon wielding an almighty cleaver, so it's quickly back to the fray. Naturally you'd assume going toe-to-toe with our own demon form would be the best way to tackle this guy, but that cleaver's got a long reach and Wu's battered relentlessly. Ouch, time for a change of tactics and so Wu goes 'hit and run', adopting a Dire Flame style to launch fireballs from a distance then neatly agilely somersaulting out of the way before that wicked cleaver can strike. Gradually wearing demon boy down, Wu eventually leaps close in under his guard and launches a succession of blistering Iron Fisted attacks to polish him off. Score one for Wu the fighting Lotus Blossom, but now the elephant demon awaits.

HALF WAY ACROSS THE WORLD
So that, we thought, would be it for Jade Empire, a small but tantalising glance half way up a mountain in France, but just over a week later we managed to gain access into the BioWare suite at GDC and it was Jade Empire the return fixture. This time we managed to explore several different locations within the game, including the rather pleasant tutorial mode and rather than describe each in detail, it's probably more useful to have a look at some of Jade's other intriguing features. Given the splendid combat sequences it's easy to forget that Jade is actually a rather advanced RPG, but nothing reminds you more than some of the excellent scripted storytelling sequences where you can engage in conversation with its inhabitants and choose from a list of appropriate responses. The lip synching and facial animation is really excellent and draws you right into the heart of an engaging multi-stranded storyline, but if you possess extra charm and intuition, you'll be offered more than just the standard conversation options. Just goes to prove: it always pays to be polite.

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Another interesting facet of the game is the role of followers, NPCs who'll offer their aid or possibly otherwise, to you during the game. One of Jade's romantic interests is the delectable Dawn Star, a fellow pupil of yours at the Two Rivers fighting school where you first begin the game. While Dawn's a competent enough fighter, she was apparently born under a bad sign and her unique abilities are best employed in a support role for your own combat prowess. While you batter the opposition, she'll happily retreat to a corner, adopt the lotus position and replenish your Chi so that you can employ extra magical attacks or focus strikes. Marvellous, good lass.

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