Writing about web page http://jade.bioware.com/
My first real game review. Could even be the first game review.
Bioware. Made Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic. All of them Action RPGs with familiar backstories - the first two in a D&D setting with a game world spanning 11 games/add-ons and the last one being set in the Star Wars universe, hugely successful amongst the fans who had actually grown up since the original trilogy.
They could have made the sequel to Knights, but they didn't: they made Jade Empire. I'm rather glad they did.
While the consequence of this is that Knights II was rather clumsy graphically, Jade Empire is absolutely beautiful – while the Xbox is probably the most powerful of the current consoles they get more out of it than I thought possible, given it's based on technology which seems very outdated to PC users. Smoke effects, running water, rain, fountains, waterfalls and an amazing water trickling over stone effect all add to a believable and wonderfully detailed world. Typically as the Xbox's replacement looms into view we only just begin to see what it is capable of.
I always judge a good "map" or "level" by how easy it is to remember – if after a couple of runs around you pretty much know your way around, the designers have done their job – they've made it "real" and they've made it distinctive. A perfect map of the old Senate House corridors isn't going to make a great level, and no level is going to win awards if it's all made out of plain concrete.
This is a new thing for Bioware – the game world is basically ancient China, but a China where all the stories you ever heard about magic and demons and crazy kung foo antics were all true. Plenty of Emperors, Monks and Spirits too. They went a bit mad with it, and I'm not sure if there's enough left for a sequel. What's not new is the "Open Palm"/"Closed Fist" meter - it's just the "Light Side"/"Dark Side" meter taken straight out of Knights and while the game has plenty to say on the merits of either course, in actuality it's a good/evil choice as usual.
The controls are a little different from a regular RPG, and more what you'd expect from a game based around martial arts, but are nowhere near as hard to master as a straight beat-em-up. Actually there's loads of things to help you – there are buttons for healing, dealing more damage and even a "bullet-time" mode – the latter two only really being necessary when you're in a desperate scrape.
Overall I found it rather fun, most of the lines are spoken in not-too-annoying style, the good/bad thing works well, difficultly is constantly adjustable so you shouldn't get stuck/bored, there's a nice variety of missions from finding lost animals to repelling a siege, great story and it looks superb.
Having finished "good", I will probably give it another play through as "evil", but not right away.
The limited edition reviewed here gives you an extra selectable character Monk Zeng but his Leaping Tiger move is available to other characters, so I'm not sure if it's an exclusive - it was my favourite move, though. You also get a Making Of DVD which is reasonably interesting, but recorded at a pitifully low resolution and probably available for download from the game TV channel it was taken from
Edit: on reflection have reduced the rating to four stars – while it scores highly on all the criteria I am interested in, I will only play through it a maximum of two times, good and evil paths, unless a significant amount of extra content becomes available for it.