If you’re an RPG player, Bioware is a developer you’ll be familiar with. Even those with a cursory interest in the genre will doubtless be acquainted with role-playing classics such as Baldur’s Gate and Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). And veterans of the latter will find Jade Empire causes more than a slight sense of deja-vu.
It’s very much built along the same lines. Your character has a morality meter and depending on how you act – valiantly or villainously – the meter swings to good or evil and the folk you meet react accordingly. Jade Empire’s various sub-quests often present you with ethical decisions, and just as in KOTOR these really flesh the game out and make it feel more alive and interesting.
The difference with Jade Empire is that it’s a martial arts RPG, so instead of the Force you use Chi to fling powerful attacks at your foes and heal yourself. There’s a lot more to it than this, though, with a huge range of different fighting styles, some of which are more passive (slowing down your opponent’s attacks, for example) whereas others are more attack-oriented, employing fast-striking blows or weapons.
However, the most telling innovation here is that the combat has moved away from KOTOR’s tactical order queues and into real-time. You leap around like a crazy kung-fu master, doing backflips and then slashing into your foes with deft strikes or weighty power attacks, and it’s all controlled via an intuitive mouse/keyboard combo.
Given that Jade Empire was originally an Xbox RPG, the translation of the controls has been handled quite competently. Fighting is generally pretty intuitive and flows well as a result, and while not exactly a novel feature, there’s a bullet-time button with which some extremely satisfying slow-motion take-downs can be executed.
Shortcomings include the targeting system, which can be awkward at times, and the camera angles which occasionally pan into a position where you can’t actually see your character (usually due to a wall). Maybe top martial artists enjoy the challenge of fighting blindfold but we didn’t!
On the whole, however, it’s thumbs up for the combat system, although the same can’t be said for the porting of the interface. Little to no effort has been made to streamline this for the PC and it’s extremely clunky and badly presented as a result.
Those who have played the Xbox version may be wondering what’s different about the PC’s special edition. The graphics have enhanced effects and they definitely look much tastier in resolutions like 1280 x 1024. A number of fresh elements have been added to the game, including new combat styles and moves, monsters and items, along with an additional super-hard difficulty level.
Company: 2K Games