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Jade Empire: Special Edition

Reheated Chinese leftovers or a prawn cracker? Will Porter unsubtly gnaws a fortune cookie...

Hang on a minute. So I'm the last of an embattled group of mystical fighters, killed off by the forces of an evil empire, yet as a baby I was smuggled away and secreted far away in a rural community where my presence would not be felt?

And I've been sent by my master into a 'spirit cave' where I'll learn about my true self, and later be spoken to by glittery blue/pale ghosts trapped between life and death? This rings a bell that's somewhat far away and relatively long ago...

A play through the first hours of the PC special edition of Jade Empire reveals that it treads the boards of Star Wars with a glee thoroughly untouched upon in the opening acts of sci-fi amnesia in either KOTOR. That's not to belittle what BioWare have created here though - from the off you're embroiled in a deep, wordy and FMV-packed narrative, nimbly facing off against evenly paced tutorial sections.

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It doesn't really feel like a converted Xbox game in the way that the KOTORs did either. Yes, the areas you find yourself in are often tight and contained, but the lush, colourful, almost hand-drawn locations and smooth character models and animations easily brings your 'console conversion' guard down.

SWEET NOT SOUR
The rejigged combat on PC works well too, even if it does take a while to get used to its intricacies - blocking, dodging, focusing power and dancing between light and heavy attacks. You can also specialise in any one of approximately a gazillion different fi ghting styles, and three or four of these are available in the game's opening martial arts school, bandit attack and swamp-set scenes.

As you level-up, you put points into your favoured disciplines as well as the usual character improvement ones, while there are also a ton of magical shiny gems that you can lodge in your ancestral amulet to stick a few pluses into the areas where you need them most.

You see, something is rotten in the heart of the Jade Empire, and it's having an impact on people who've shuffl ed off their mortal coils - the path to the afterlife has been blocked and there's a whole lot of spectral huffi ng and moaning going on.

Because of this, you can prepare for a few ghost-based variants on BioWare's staple moral dilemma template, mothers wracked by guilt after the death and reappearance of their infants and the like. There's also quite a few demons that look like bipedal rhinos and some horses knocking about - but they're more a sign of the Jade Empire being a bit odd rather than something more sinister.

Whether the changes shackled into the Jade redux will prove mostly cosmetic remains to be seen, as does whether the tight confines of the game and its comparatively short playtime will grate in a PC sphere not exactly neck-deep in roleplay rivals. But, four or five hours in, I certainly feel like a sexy kung-fu fighter. And that doesn't happen every day.

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