A tour of Dead Rising

Oatmealraisin takes us for a nice relaxed tour of the Willamete mall in Dead Rising for the Xbox, showcasing the sandbox nature of the game and all the interactive objects you can find in it such as bowling balls to tumble zombies or pies to the face.

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Halo: Combat Evolved

Time for another in depth look at a classic game, this time the well known Halo, the first of a trilogy that has become a runaway hit and synonymous with the Xbox console

Halo: Combat Evolved (or, more commonly, Halo or Halo 1) is a first-person shooter (FPS) video game developed by Bungie Studios. The first game of the Halo series, it was released on November 15, 2001 as a launch title for the Xbox gaming system, and is considered the platform’s “killer application.” With more than five million copies sold worldwide, Halo is second only to its sequel, Halo 2, in sales for the console. Microsoft released versions of the game for Microsoft Windows (developed by Gearbox Software) and Mac OS X in 2003, and the surrounding storyline was adapted and elaborated into a series of novels.

In Halo‘s twenty-sixth century setting, the player assumes the role of the Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced “SPARTAN” super-soldier. The player is accompanied by Cortana, an artificial intelligence who occupies the Master Chief’s neural interface. Players battle various aliens on foot and in vehicles as they attempt to uncover the secrets of the eponymous Halo, a ring-shaped structure. The game has been called “easy to learn”, and has been praised for its “engaging story”.

Some game magazines have praised Halo as one of the best and most important games of all time; others consider it overrated, criticizing it for repetitive levels and the lack of online multiplayer play in the Xbox release. The game’s popularity has led to labels such as “Halo clone” and “Halo killer”, applied respectively to games either similar to or anticipated to be better than it. In addition, the game inspired and was used in the fan-created Red vs. Blue video series, which is credited as the “first big success” of machinima — the technique of using real-time 3D engines, often from video games, to create animated films.

Gameplay

The Master Chief fires his Assault Rifle at a pack of Grunts.


The Master Chief fires his Assault Rifle at a pack of Grunts.

As a first-person shooter, Halo has a gameplay fundamentally similar to that of its peers, focusing on combat in a 3D environment, and taking place almost entirely from a character’s eye view. The player can move around and look up, down, left or right. The game features vehicles, ranging from armored jeeps (Warthog) to tanks (Scorpion), alien hovercraft (Ghost) and even aircraft (Banshee), all of which can be controlled by the player. The game switches to the third-person perspective during vehicle use for pilots and mounted gun operators; passengers maintain a first-person view.

The player character is equipped with a damage-absorbing energy shield, in addition to hit points. The shield’s charge appears as a blue bar in the upper-right corner of the game’s heads-up display. When the shield is fully depleted, the player is highly vulnerable, and further damage reduces the character’s health level. However, the shield will recharge if no further damage is sustained for a brief period.

Halo‘s arsenal consists of weapons from science fiction. The game has been praised for giving each weapon a unique purpose, thus making them useful in different scenarios. For instance, plasma weapons need time to cool if fired too rapidly, but require no reloading. Instead, players are forced to discard them after depleting their batteries. In contrast, conventional firearms cannot overheat, but require reloading and ammunition. All weapons may be used to bludgeon enemies, which allows a player to silently kill opponents without alerting other nearby enemies. Players may carry only two weapons at once; thus, a strategy is required when using and selecting firearms.

The player can carry up to eight grenades at a time: four fragmentation and four plasma grenades each. Like the game’s other weapons, the two types of grenades differ; the fragmentation grenade bounces and detonates quickly, whereas the plasma grenade adheres to targets and takes longer to detonate. A controller button assigned to grenades eliminates the need to holster firearms before throwing.

Combatants

The game’s main enemy force is the Covenant, an alliance of alien species. Their forces include Elites, fierce warriors protected by recharging energy shields much like the player’s own (In fact the Master Chief’s armor is based on the Elite armor); Grunts, which are short, cowardly creatures, usually led by Elites, and who often flee in terror instead of fighting unless an Elite is present; Jackals, which have highly durable energy shields attached to their arms; and Hunters, large, powerful creatures with thick armor plates that cover the majority of their bodies.

A secondary enemy is The Flood, a parasitic alien life form that appears in three main variants. Infection Forms, the true form of the Flood, are fragile, but often travel in swarms; they do little damage individually, but the swarms often number in the hundreds. Combat Forms result from humans and Covenant Elites who are infested by Infection Forms, and have hideously deformed bodies. Bloated Carrier Forms serve as incubators for new Infection Forms, and when wounded or near a potential victim, they explode to damage other nearby life forms and to release their spores. Battling the Flood, the Covenant, and the player are the Sentinels, robotic drones designed by a race called the Forerunners. Sentinels lack durability, but use powerful beam weapons and are immune to infection by the Flood.

The artificial intelligence in Halo has been favorably received. Enemies take cover and use suppressive fire and grenades. Some enemies retreat when their superiors are killed. The player is often aided by United Nations Space Command (UNSC) Marines, who offer ground support, such as manning gun turrets or riding shotgun while the player is driving a vehicle.

Multiplayer

Because Halo was released before Xbox Live, online multiplayer games were not officially supported. The game instead uses local Ethernet or “system-link” that supports a maximum of 16 players. This setup was a first for a console game, but was often deemed impractical by critics. As Halo lacks artificially intelligent game bots, LAN parties are needed to reach the game’s 16-player limit. In addition to five customizable competitive multiplayer modes, two players may co-operatively play through the game’s campaign. Halo‘s multiplayer components were generally well-received by critics.

Although the Xbox version of Halo lacks official support for online multiplayer play, XBConnect and GameSpy’s Xbox Connect packet tunnelling software provide unofficial ways around this limitation. The Windows and Macintosh ports of Halo support online matches involving up to 16 players and include multiplayer maps not in the original Xbox release. However, co-operative play was removed from the ports because it would have required large amounts of recoding to implement. On March 15, 2004, Gearbox Software released Halo: Custom Edition for Windows, which enabled players to use custom-made maps and game modifications.

Synopsis

Setting

Main article: Halo universe

Halo takes place in a science fiction universe created by Bungie Studios specifically for the game. According to the story, the overpopulation of Earth and the realization of faster-than-light travel have caused the human race to colonize other planets. A keystone of these efforts is the planet Reach, an interstellar naval yard responsible for building starships, and a hub of scientific and military activity. A secret military endeavor, dubbed the SPARTAN Project, was established on Reach to create an army of biologically-engineered, cyborg “super-soldiers”. Thirty-two years before the beginning of the game, a technologically advanced collective of alien races, the Covenant, began to attack human settlements. Declaring humanity an affront to their gods, the Covenant launched a holy war against the human race. The United Nations Space Command experienced a series of crushing defeats, and, although the super-soldiers of the SPARTAN-II Project fought impressively against the Covenant, they were unable to turn the tides of war.

To prepare for a mission to discover the location of the Covenant homeworld by boarding one of its starships, SPARTAN-II soldiers were recalled to Reach for further augmentation. Two days before the mission was to begin, Covenant forces attacked Reach and destroyed the colony. A starship, the Pillar of Autumn, survived the onslaught and initiated a random jump to slip space (similar to light speed), hoping to lead the enemy away from Earth.

The titular Halo is an enormous, ring-shaped artificial space habitat/planet, which (according to Bungie Studios) has a diameter of ten thousand kilometers. Halo sits at a Lagrange point between a planet and its moon. Centrifugal force created by the rotation of the station, combined with artificial gravity generators provide the ring’s gravity.

Characters

Main article: List of Halo series characters

The player character is Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, one of the few (see Halo: The Fall of Reach and its sequels for more information) surviving super-soldiers of the SPARTAN-II project, and the main character of the story. Accompanying the Master Chief is the Pillar of Autumn‘s feminine artificial intelligence construct, Cortana, who resides in a neural implant connected to his battle armor, codenamed MJOLNIR Mark V. The Pillar of Autumn‘s captain, Jacob Keyes, is also a major character. Playing an antagonistic role in the game’s events is 343 Guilty Spark, an eccentric artificial intelligence responsible for monitoring and maintaining Halo’s systems.

Plot

From left, the Master Chief, Cortana, and Captain Keyes aboard the Pillar of Autumn.

From left, the Master Chief, Cortana, and Captain Keyes aboard the Pillar of Autumn.

The story is presented through an instruction manual, scripted events and conversations during the game, and in-game cut scenes. The game begins as the Pillar of Autumn exits slip-space near a mysterious ring-shaped space station, called “Halo” by the Covenant. A Covenant fleet attacks and heavily damages the Pillar of Autumn. Jacob Keyes initiates “The Cole Protocol“, a procedure designed to prevent the Covenant from learning the location of Earth. While Keyes prepares to land the ship on Halo, the Master Chief and Cortana escape via an escape pod, which crash lands on the ring.

Keyes survives the Autumn‘s crash landing, but is captured by the Covenant. In the second and third levels of the game, the Master Chief and Cortana gather human survivors and rescue Captain Keyes, who is imprisoned on the Covenant ship Truth and Reconciliation. Once rescued, Keyes orders the Master Chief to beat the Covenant to Halo’s control center and to discover its purpose. The Master Chief and Cortana travel to a map room called the Silent Cartographer, which leads them to the control room. There, Cortana enters the systems and, discovering something urgent, suddenly sends the Master Chief to find Captain Keyes, while she stays behind. While searching for his commander, the Master Chief learns that the Covenant have accidentally released the Flood, a parasitic alien race capable of spreading itself by overwhelming and infesting other sentient lifeforms. Keyes falls victim to them while looking for a cache of weapons. The release of the Flood prompts 343 Guilty Spark to recruit the Master Chief in retrieving the Index, a device that will activate Halo and prevent the Flood from spreading beyond the facility.

The Master Chief (left) converses with 343 Guilty Spark.

The Master Chief (left) converses with 343 Guilty Spark.

After the Master Chief retrieves and begins to use the Index, Cortana re-appears and warns him against the activation. She has discovered that Halo’s defense system is a weapon designed to kill all sentient life in the galaxy, thus effectively starving the Flood. When confronted with this information, 343 Guilty Spark states that the installation technically only has a maximum radius of twenty-five thousand light-years, but that its pulse would trigger other similar installations as well, killing all sentient life in the galaxy.

While fighting the Flood, the Covenant, and Guilty Spark’s Sentinels, the Master Chief and Cortana attempt to destroy Halo before 343 Guilty Spark activates it. Cortana discovers that the best way to destroy Halo is to cause the crashed Pillar of Autumn to self-destruct. However, Captain Keyes’ authorization is required to destroy the ship. By the time that they reach Keyes, he has been infected and turned into a Brain Flood. The Master Chief retrieves Keyes’ neural implants directly from his brain, and Cortana activates the Autumn‘s self-destruct sequence. However, 343 Guilty Spark reappears and deactivates the countdown, discovering the record of human history in the process. The Master Chief manually causes the Pillar of Autumn‘s fusion reactors to begin to melt down, giving him and Cortana only 15 minutes to escape. The Master Chief and Cortana flee in a UNSC Longsword fighter just in time to escape the Autumn‘s explosion, which in turn destroys Halo. The ending reveals that 343 Guilty Spark survives the destruction of Halo. The story is continued in Halo 2.

Soundtrack

Main article: Halo Original Soundtrack

Halo‘s soundtrack was created by Bungie Studios‘ audio director, Martin O’Donnell, and received enthusiastic praise from many critics. O’Donnell has stated that his goal was to provide “a feeling of importance, weight, and sense of the ‘ancient’.” He designed the music so that it “could be dissembled and remixed in such a way that would give [him] multiple, interchangeable loops that could be randomly recombined in order to keep the piece interesting as well as a variable length”. Development involved the creation of “alternative middle sections that could be transitioned to if the game called for such a change (i.e. less or more intense).”

O’Donnell has remarked that he “sat with the level designers and ‘spotted’ the level as though it was a movie, with the knowledge that the music would have to be malleable rather than static…. The level designer would tell me what he hoped a player would feel at certain points or after accomplishing certain tasks”. Based on this information, O’Donnell would “go back and develop appropriate music cues, then have the designer script the cues into the level, and then we’d play through it to see if it worked as desired.” He explained that the use of music in Halo is sparse because he believes that “[music] is best used in a game to quicken the emotional state of the player and it works best when used least”, and that “[if] music is constantly playing it tends to become sonic wallpaper and loses its impact when it is needed to truly enhance some dramatic component of game play.”

Development

The first official screenshot of Halo.

The first official screenshot of Halo.

On July 21, 1999, during the Macworld Conference & Expo, Steve Jobs announced that Halo would be released for Mac OS and Windows simultaneously. Before this public announcement, game industry journalists under a non-disclosure agreement had previewed the game in a private showing during E3 1999, and were reportedly amazed. Bungie Studios later stated an even earlier development build of the game centered on real-time strategy and was “basically Myth in a sci-fi universe.”

At E3 2000, the first trailer of Halo was well-received. The version shown there differed greatly from the one exhibited previously, marking the first major overhaul in the game’s development. At this point, Halo was a third-person action game, in which a transport starship crashlands on a mysterious ring world that orbits a star. Early versions of Covenant aliens appear in great numbers and loot what they can, and war erupts between them and the humans. Unable to match the technologically advanced alien race, the humans on the ring world resort to guerrilla warfare. This version of the game featured Halo-specific fauna, which were later dropped because of design difficulties and the creatures’ “detract[ion] from the surprise, drama and impact of the Flood.”

As rumors had predicted, Microsoft announced on June 19, 2000 that it had acquired Bungie Studios. Halo became an exclusive game for Microsoft’s Xbox video game console, and Bungie Studios rewrote the game’s engine, heavily altering its presentation and turning it into a first-person shooter. Originally a key element, the game’s online multiplayer component was dropped because Xbox Live would be unfinished at the time of Halo‘s release. While a playable demonstration of the game at Gamestock 2001 was well-received, critics had mixed reactions to its exhibition at E3 2001. The game was released in North America simultaneously with the Xbox, on November 15, 2001.

On July 12, 2002, a Halo port for Windows was announced to be under development by Gearbox Software, creators of the Half Life:opposing force sequel to Valve software’s Half Life. Its showing at E3 2003 was positively received by some critics, with skepticism by others. It was released on September 30, 2003, and included support for online multiplayer play and featured sharper graphics, but had compatibility issues that caused poor performance. Halo was later released for Mac OS X on December 11, 2003. On December 4, 2007, the game became available for the Xbox 360 via download from the Xbox Live Marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points.

Reception

Reviews
Publication Score
Edge 10/10
Fourth ever top score awarded
Electronic Gaming Monthly 10/10
Platinum Award,
Game of the Year
Famitsu 32/40
Game Informer 9.5/10
GameSpot 9.7/10.
Editor’s Choice
GameSpy 85/100
IGN 9.7/10
Editor’s Choice,
Game of the Year 2001
Compilations of multiple reviews
Compiler Score
Metacritic 97% (based on 68 reviews)
Game Rankings 96% (based on 90 reviews)
Awards
2002 Game Developers Choice Awards: Excellence in Audio
5th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards: Console and Overall Game of the Year,
Console Action / Adventure, Visual Engineering
2000 Game Critics Awards: Best Action Game

On its release Halo broke sales records; by April 8, 2002, one million units had been sold: this pace was faster than that of any previous sixth-generation console game. During the two months following Halo‘s release, the game sold alongside more than fifty percent of Xbox consoles. Halo‘s retail price remained at US$49.99 until November 30, 2003. By July 14, 2003, the game had sold three million copies worldwide, and by January 28, 2004, it had reached four million copies. Since its release on November 15, 2001, Halo has sold over five million copies worldwide.

Halo was critically acclaimed and received an overall score of 97% on Metacritic. Electronic Gaming Monthly observed, “This game has me totally mesmerized … [It] engages your intellect on a whole different level”, and awarded the game a perfect score. GameSpot claimed that “Halo‘s single-player game is worth picking up an Xbox for alone”, commenting, “Not only is this easily the best of the Xbox launch games, but it’s easily one of the best shooters ever, on any platform.” IGN remarked similarly, calling Halo a “can’t miss, no-brainer, sure thing, five star, triple A game.” Edge called it “the most important launch game for any console, ever”, and awarded it a 10 out of 10 score, only the fourth such rating in the magazine’s 12-year history. The game received numerous Game of the Year awards, including those of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Edge, and IGN. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded Halo “Best Console Game”, and Rolling Stone presented it with their “Best Original Soundtrack” award. According to Xbox.com, the game received a total of 48 awards. Among the specific aspects that reviewers praised were the balance of weapons, the role of drivable vehicles,, and the artificial intelligence of enemies.

Although Halo‘s overall reception was positive, the game was criticized for its level design. IGN wrote that “the middle third of the game basically has … the same level over again.” GameSpy placed the game tenth on its “Top 25 Most Overrated Games of All Time” list; the site stated that the levels often “degenerated into recycling the same areas over and over until you were bored to tears” and complained about the lack of online multiplayer play. Noting the level design as a problem, an article on Game Studies.org stated that the game still “triumphs in understanding the anatomy of the FPS,” and is “not so much about ‘combat evolved’ as the subtitle suggests, but about ‘genre evolved’.”

Halo‘s PC rendition garnered mixed reactions and received a score of 83% on Metacritic. While GameSpot claimed that it was “still an incredible action game … [and] a true classic”, awarding it 9.0 out of 10. It received a score of 8.2 out of 10 from IGN, who stated, “If you’ve played the game on the Xbox, there’s not much for you here.” Eurogamer called the game “a missed opportunity”, but stated that the online multiplayer component was “a massive draw … for Halo veterans”.

Legacy

According to Gamespot, Halo‘s “numerous subtle innovations have been borrowed by countless other games since.” The game is often cited as the main reason for the Xbox’s success, and it began what is commonly known as the system’s flagship franchise. Game designer Vox Day credited the game with using science-fiction environments to follow Half-Life in eschewing static levels and a similarity to dungeon crawls, which the FPS genre inherited from Akalabeth. Day further wrote that Halo spurred a sustained trend of many other FPS console games. Using criteria including revenue, average review scores, commentary, spin-offs and other elements, Halo has been estimated as the second to top game of the twenty-first century, behind Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The game’s popularity sparked the usage of terms like “Halo clone” and “Halo killer”; the game Killzone was billed as the latter. The Halo engine has been used for the game Stubbs the Zombie in “Rebel Without a Pulse”.

Halo has been featured at both Major League Gaming and the World Cyber Games. In machinima, the game was used as the basis for the popular Red vs. Blue. The game’s sequel, Halo 2, made US$125 million with unit sales of 2.38 million on the first day of its release, earning it the distinction of the fastest-selling United States media product in history. Three years later, Halo 3 shattered that record with the biggest opening day in entertainment history, taking in US$170 million in its first 24 hours.

Adaptations

Further information: Halo (series)#Adaptations and List of official Halo series media

The story surrounding Halo: Combat Evolved has been adapted into novels, the first of which was Halo: The Fall of Reach, a prequel. Published in October 2001, this novel was written by Eric Nylund, who reportedly completed it in seven weeks. The novel became a Publishers Weekly bestseller with almost two hundred thousand copies sold. The following novel, entitled Halo: The Flood, is a tie-in to Halo: Combat Evolved, describing not only the experiences of the Master Chief, but also those of other characters on Installation 04. Written by William C. Dietz, this novel appeared on the Publishers Weekly bestsellers list during May 2003. Nylund returned to write the third novel, Halo: First Strike, which takes place between the events of Halo: Combat Evolved and those of Halo 2. Written in 16 weeks, it was published in December 2003. Later novels, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx (written by Nylund and released on October 31, 2006) and Halo: Contact Harvest (written by Joseph Staten) further extended the Halo storyline.

Another adaptation is the Halo Graphic Novel, a collection of four short stories released in July 2006. It was written and illustrated by well-known graphic novelists Lee Hammock, Jay Faerber, Tsutomu Nihei, Brett Lewis, Simon Bisley, Ed Lee and Jean Giraud. Bungie Studios regards Halo‘s adaptations as canon.

The game exhibits some rather startling jumps in tone, from the clean almost humorous sci-fi action of Master Chief versus the flood to the grim body horror of the flood parasites who take over their live victims and turn them into relentless zombie hordes, yet the well timed and masterfully arranged musical score keeps the flow going along smoothly easing the transitions between themes. Few games give the sense of scale and majesty that Halo’s outdoor environments do, and it’s sci-fi storyline, while reminiscent of existing previous classics retains enough originality and coherence to be gripping

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Jade Empire

Jade Empire Special Edition (Rhino Demon Exclusive Content)Jade Empire Special Edition (Rhino Demon Exclusive Content)

Jade Empire is an action RPG developed by Canadian developer BioWare. It was published by Microsoft and released for Xbox worldwide in 2005. Later released was a two-disc “Limited Edition” of the same, containing extra content. On May 10, 2006 BioWare announced that it would release a PC version of the game for Microsoft Windows, to be published by 2K Games. This version was released on February 26, 2007 in North America as a “Special Edition”. It was also released on the Steam delivery system on February 27, 2007. BioWare executives have strongly hinted that a sequel is in the works; allegedly to be most likely developed for the Xbox 360 platform.

Jade Empire

Jade Empire Limited Edition boxart

Jade Empire - DVD Enhanced (Prima Official Game Guide)Jade Empire – DVD Enhanced (Prima Official Game Guide)

Gameplay

Overview

Jade Empire is based in a mythical setting inspired by ancient China, and allows the player to progress through an adventure based on traditional martial arts. As the character (who can be either male or female) progresses through the game, he is able to discover and develop new fighting styles (either martial arts, weapon styles, magic styles, support styles or transformation styles). During combat the player can switch between styles by hitting a pre-assigned direction on the D-Pad. Combat is not turn-based, but is in real time and gives players the ability to control how and when his character dodges or attacks. In this fashion the player has the ability to change styles during combat and possibly initiate a Harmonic Combo.

The traditional RPG stats are not featured in this game; rather, they are replaced with just three: Body, Mind, and Spirit. These primary stats control the secondary stats of Health, Focus, and Chi (respectively), and the conversation skills of Charm, Intuition, and Intimidation. Focus is used by fighting with weapon styles (such as a longsword or a staff) or by choosing “focus mode”, which slows the movements of other characters, allowing the player to attack at high speeds. Chi is a character’s spirit energy. The player can use it to heal himself, to charge up a powerful “chi strike” to deal large damage, or to use it as “mana” when casting spells or transformations. Health, focus, and chi can be replenished by collecting power-ups left by defeated enemies in combat or by using Focus Shrines and Spirit Fonts found in the game world. Additionally, certain party members have the ability to add their power to yours—refilling your stats while they remain out of harm’s way.

Certain aspects of Jade Empire‘s gameplay engine, dialogue and quest systems are handled in a way that is very similar to BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games for the Xbox and PC. Players can speak to NPCs in the game’s towns (and other areas), asking questions for information to learn more about the world, the storyline, and other characters (also some have willing to join your party). Many of these NPCs will offer the player side quests that can be completed for experience points and items. These quests often have more than one method of completion depending on whether the player chooses to follow the “High path” (in the game referred to as The Way of the Open Palm ) or the “Low path” (The Way of the Closed Fist ). The player can respond to questions or take courses of action that are consistent with the philosophy he or she follows; different actions will affect a character’s alignment and his ability to cast certain spells or equip certain items.

There is also a vertical-scrolling airplane shooter included in Jade Empire as a mini-game, which is triggered by certain events in the storyline. In the mini-game, only the health and chi bars are active. Chi is replenished by shooting enemies, and is used for special attacks specific to the mini-game. The yellow focus spheres will upgrade your primary cannon up to three times. Red health spheres refill your health bar as in the main game.

Jade Empire also features the constructed language Tho Fan developed by Wolf Wikeley, a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at the University of Alberta.

Philosophies

Much of the game places a certain amount of emphasis on the two major philosophies in the world of the Jade Empire, the Way of the Open Palm and the Way of the Closed Fist. Officially, while these can easily be equated to a “Light Path” and “Dark Path”, one who follows the Way of the Open Palm is not necessarily good, and one who follows the Way of the Closed Fist is not necessarily evil. Context plays a huge part in the way these philosophies act out, so it is indeed a hard task to generalise what either path means all the time. However, in terms of game play, following the closed fist path can involve performing blatantly evil actions.

The “Way of the Open Palm” basically states that the key to maintaining the universe is by being in harmony with nature, one’s surroundings, and one’s station in life. As an effect of being in nature with one’s surroundings, one is expected to actively assist in lessening the chaos in the area, through the assistance of lessening burdens. While this seems “Peaceful”, the Way of the Open Palm is strict in another form: one should not act outside their station and purpose in life. This in turn, can lead to the low path of the Way of the Closed Fist.

Looking at the aforementioned example, in the case of a person with a gambling debt, an evil follower of the Way of the Open Palm, judging that the debtor attempted to act outside of his station and thus violated the harmony of the universe, may give the debtor the money – in the form of a gamble the Open Palm follower rigged so the debtor would win. While this seems to have helped out the debtor, it has in fact perpetuated the debtor’s gambling problem, only dooming the person to wind up in the same situation again – perhaps even worse next time. The debtor is thus unable to act above his situation, whilst the short-term effects around him contribute to harmony.

On the other hand, the “Way of the Closed Fist” follows the philosophy that the purpose of life is to follow the ways of serving oneself – to face one’s challenges head on, challenge one’s station in life, and work to become self-reliant. The emphasis of the Way of the Closed Fist is combat, turmoil, and constantly challenging oneself, which is why many of those who are evil tend to be considered to follow the Way of the Closed Fist, in that they bring about chaos in the universe. However, such people can no more be classed as true followers of the Way of the Closed Fist than common thieves can be classed as revolutionaries.

Using the same example as shown before, a good follower of the Way of the Closed Fist would indeed inform the debtor’s collectors where the debtor is hiding, but from the point of view of the follower, this is hardly a betrayal. Following the beliefs of the Closed Fist, it would be meaningless for the debtor to get out of the situation through someone else’s help – instead, forcing him into a position wherein he is forced to deal with his problems directly allows him to grow, and thus become stronger than he would have been otherwise.

The more extreme variant of this, usually used by the ones who use the Way of the Closed Fist to justify slaughter, would be to kill the debtor oneself, then take the money the debtor had. The claim therein would be along the lines of “if the debtor was not strong enough to survive me, he didn’t deserve to live.” However, this is not truly following the Way of the Closed Fist, rather simply contributing to chaos for one’s own benefit.

Many solutions that are resolved using the philosophy of the Way of the Closed Fist could be considered to have much in common with Social Darwinism where Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest is applied to humans. For example, you come across a slave and her slave master. A follower of the Way of the Closed Fist would make the slave fight for her freedom against the slave master so the strongest person wins.

Characters

Although there are three different types of character selectable by the player (certainly in the non-LE Xbox version), the Player Character can be heavily customised to suit each player’s taste on the beginning of a new game. The three main attributes (Health, Spirit and Mind) can be individually tailored per character, as can the model (there are six choices in the non-LE Xbox version).


During the course of the game the player will meet various NPCs that will have willingness to join the player’s party and thereby become a follower.

Further information: List of Jade Empire characters

Romance

Jade Empire gives the player-character the option to form a romantic relationship with several of the non-player characters, including characters of the same sex. Successfully romancing a character results in them standing outside your tent on the eve of the battle against the golems, whereupon, unless you choose to reject them, your character and the NPC will lean in to kiss (although if the character is of the same sex, the camera will pan away before the actual kiss itself). Male characters can romance Dawn Star, Silk Fox or Sky. Female characters can romance Sky or Silk Fox. Male characters can also romance both Dawn Star and Silk Fox at the same time. If this is the case, the cutscene and dialog at the tent implies that Dawn Star and Silk Fox spent some time together in their grief and lead you off for a menage-a-trois. When you romance a certain character, you are also given the opportunity to influence his or her way of thinking. For example, the normally calm and collected Dawn Star can be persuaded to stand up for herself and become an altogether less mellow person, effectively following the path of the Closed Fist.

Plot

Chapter 1: Two Rivers

The game casts you as a martial arts student under the tutelage of Master Li, head of the Two Rivers martial arts school, based in the in-game geographical locale of the Golden Delta.

The player’s training is interrupted as the town of Two Rivers comes under attack from an aggressor in a strange ship, who summons ghosts to attack the student. The attacker is defeated by Master Li who comes to the students’ rescue, and reveals that the attacker was a member of the Lotus Assassins, a mysterious force serving the Emperor of the Jade Empire. Gao the Lesser, a rival of the student, issues a challenge for a duel and loses. He is expelled from the school after he attempts to use explicitly forbidden magic on the student. Master Li explains that the student is the last of an order of Spirit Monks. He, a brother of the Emperor and leader of the army, had ordered an attack on Dirge, where the Spirt Monks’ temple existed, in order to end the drought. He claimed to have opposed the act and to have saved the student and the Dragon’s Amulet.

He sends the student down to a cave beneath the school where he finds part of a Spirit Monk amulet and has a vision of the Water Dragon, the entity whose death at the hands of the Emperor ended the decade-long Long Drought but left spirits roaming the land. Dawn Star, one of the students at the school and a friend of the player, is kidnapped by Gao The Lesser. The student rescues her but returns to find the village in flames, and Master Li kidnapped. The student, Dawn Star, and Sagacious Zu, a man whom they had met in the swamps around the village, head off in a borrowed flying machine towards the Imperial City, where Master Li has been taken.

Chapter 2: Tien’s Landing

The party crash-lands their machine in Tien’s Landing, and set out to find you a new flyer and a wind map that will show them the way to the Imperial City. The flyer, the Magnificent Dragonfly, is taken from the base of Gao the Greater, the father of the dead student of the first chapter. Gao the Greater is working with Grand Inquisitor Jia’s elite subordinate, Inquisitor Lim, and is distressed to hear of his son’s death. The player tracks down and kills him, and recruits Sky, a rogue, and Kang The Mad, Gao’s personal engineer.

The party goes to a recently drained area near Tien’s Landing, which flooded when the dam was first constructed. The Lotus Assassins opened the dam in order to search the ruins of the old Tien’s Landing, covered by the flood. The student fights Chai Ka, a demon bound in the body of a little girl, and learns that Chai Kai was sent to protect the student and that the Lotus Assassins already have the amulet. The player then can close the dam or destroy the controls, keeping it open forever.

The student then heads to the Great Southern Forest, under the ownership of Lord Yun, and has the option of helping the Forest Shadow defeat a demon known as the Mother, or helping the Mother’s cannibalistic demons destroy the Forest Shadow. In either event, the player can convince Lord Yun that the forest is recovering, and get his wind map. Inquisitor Lim will ambushes the player at this point; the player kills him and recovers a piece of the amulet.

Chapter 3: Imperial City

The party lands in Imperial City and meet up with Silk Fox, who is revealed to be Princess Lian the Heavenly Lily, daughter of the Emperor. She is unconvinced that her father is behind the sickness the plagues the land, and believes that Death’s Hand, the black armor-clad head of the Lotus Assassins, is responsible. After joining either the Executioners or the Inquisitors, the student’s party infiltrates the Lotus Assassin’s training ground to recover the last part of the Spirit Monk amulet. Sagacious Zu reveals that he was one of the Lotus Assassins who killed Master Li’s family. During their quest, the party helps Master Gang assassinate his superior, Master Shin, making it look like an accident, and puts a corrupted Spirit Shard into a Jade Golem, causing it to go out of control. The golems go out of control, damaging the underground complex. The party kills Master Gang. They also find Grand Inquisitor Jia, who reveals that the Emperor knew about what Death’s Hand and the Lotus Assassins were doing, and ordered them to do it. The player kills her, but Death’s Hand arrives. Sagacious Zu sacrifices himself to save the student, burying Death’s Hand in rubble.

Chapter 4: Imperial Palace

The party fights their way to the Emperor’s throne-room where Silk Fox learns of what her father has done. He is aware that the Water Dragon’s death is stopping the dead from reaching the underworld but is mad with power. The Emperor knocks down all the people in the throne room with a blast of magic and summons guards to attack the student, who defeats them. The student battles the Emperor, who is able to alternate fighting styles and damage immunities. The student kills the Emperor, but Master Li gets up, takes the Jade Heart for himself, and kills the student.

Chapter 5: Spirit Monk Temple

The student wakes up in the underworld as a spirit. The Water Dragon reveals that Sun Li had planned this all along, as he wished for the Water Dragon’s power and needed the amulet and to defeat Emperor Sun Hai. The student meets up with the spirit of Abbot Song, who tells him what truly happened at Dirge. He reveals that Sun Li wore Death’s Hand’s armor and killed the abbot when he tried to stop him and his brothers. The brothers defiled the fountains with human blood, weakening the Water Dragon, and Emperor Sun Hai killed Sun Kin when he and Sun Li attempted to oppose him. Abbot Song then reveals that one of his order attempted to escape with the student, but Sun Li, who had escaped from Sun Hai, killed the student’s guardian and assumed his identity. The player and Abbot Song make their way through Dirge and learn that an evil being has taken control after the fall of the temple. The student reaches the place where the Water Dragon was slain, and defeats aspects of his darker emotions. The student then returns to life, and the rest of the party, who learns about this through Dawn Star, flies to Dirge to reunite with their friend.

Chapter 6: Defending the Temple

While the student was dead, Sun Li realized that action would have to be taken against him, and retrieved Death’s Hand from the rubble of the Lotus Assassin headquarters. He then sends the Imperial Army against Dirge. Sky pretends to betray the group, and lures Death’s Hand out so that the student can defeat him in single combat. However, this is not enough to defeat him; Death’s Hand rises again, but the student uses the force of his will to expel Sun Li’s influence. The player may then release Death’s Hand, use him as a slave, or convince him to seek redemption.

Chapter 7: Back to the Palace

The party flies back to the palace to confront the Emperor. As they make their way through the palace they discover that the Emperor had stopped the drought by cutting open the Water Dragon’s corpse and letting the water that flows from it feed the Empire. The student chooses either to destroy the Water Dragon’s body, thus freeing her spirit and allowing the dead to find the underworld, or defiling the water to weaken the Dragon and claim her power after defeating the Emperor.

The student reaches Emperor Sun Li, who first sends Constructs of Bull and Elephant demons, the most powerful in the game, after the player and his companion. Sun Li then encases the student in stone and attempts to defeat the player with the force of his own doubt. However, if the student’s companions survived, they will reduce the number of enemies that must be fought in each of the two stages. Sagacious Zu appears and helps free the student from his mind.

Emperor Sun Li offers to help his student live in legend forever, if he dies without fighting. If the player makes this decision, the student is remembered as a hero for knowing his place, as Sun Li looks on and laughs. If the player does not, Sun Li attacks, and the student defeats him.

Endings

If the student chooses to free the Water Dragon’s spirit, then the end sequence shows the people of the Jade Empire cheering the student and their party. If the student chooses to enslave the Water Dragon, the end sequence shows the Lotus Assassins kneeling at the feet of the student. After this end sequence, there are short text summaries detailing the fate of any characters who survived the adventure. These vary depending upon whether or not the student chose to enslave or free the Water Dragon, and also what romance options the student pursued.

Dawn Star: She either settles down with the student, settles down on her own, rules the empire with the student, or if the student talked her into a Closed Fist philosophy and/or abandoned her, wanders the Jade Empire alone.

Silk Fox: If the student does not romance Silk Fox, she will become Empress of the Jade Empire. If the student does romance Silk Fox and the student is male, the student and Silk Fox will rule the empire fairly, or with an iron fist. If the student is female, Silk Fox will either rule the empire fairly with her ‘companion’, or will again rule with an iron fist, both the student and Silk Fox dressing up in the Silk Fox costume to silence dissenters.

Sky: Sky will use the Guild for good purposes, or serve as the student’s consort or as the new Death’s Hand. If the student is female and romances with Sky, they leave the imperial city and live on the outskirts of Tien’s Landing.

Black Whirlwind: Black Whirlwind will roam the empire cutting off heads, eventually making his way around the world.

Henpecked Hou: After a series of mishaps, he starts a delivery business, which he immediately uses as a method of escaping his overbearing wife.

Chai Ka: Chai Ka will either return to the heavens, freeing the girl whose body he inhabits to live her life. Or the girl will end up wandering the empire as a raving lunatic.

Ya Zhen: Ya Zhen will either serve the student until he or she passes away (resulting in him moving to bigger plans) or serve the student forever and loyally.

Death’s Hand: Death’s Hand will either become more evil, mutating so badly that his armor cannot hold his demonic form, or he will spend the rest of his days wandering the empire as a crusader for good, in order to make up for his past misdeeds.

Kang the Mad: Kang will continue to invent machines until an explosion appears to take his life, although strange machines continue to appear every now and then. Or as Lord Lao, Kang’s lack of danger affects his imagination in building machines, so as a radical solution, Kang starts arming the mobs that are after him, or he works for the emperor(player), worrying his use will eventually be worn out and he will be disposed of, eventually crafting a portal to another dimension and disapearing in a huge explosion, taking an entire lake with him.

A third, alternate ending is available if the Student agrees to the terms of surrender presented by the main antagonist in the final confrontation. The ending sequence features a statue of the Student being praised assumedly years later by a class of children with a skin condition similar to that of the Lotus Assassins. One child asks what life was like before the protagonist’s honored sacrifice and is quickly shushed by his teacher as a Jade Golem readies an axe to quell such questioning. The sequence ends with the main antagonist laughing evilly.

Reception

Criticisms

Although generally well liked by reviewers and players alike (winning Game Informer’s Game of the Month award and 2005 Xbox Game of the Year from IGN.com) some elements attracted criticism. One was the problem of loading screens, shared by BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic. Some effort was taken to combat this, such as having the “team gathering/home base” areas separated from the main “town/village.” Going there would bring up a mini-loading bar, rather than a whole new load screen. Also, some areas incorporate the use of an elevator device to mask the game loading to a new area; these include the Imperial Palace and the Headquarters of the Lotus Assassins. This serves to remove drag time in waiting for the game to load, but one area of the game that draws constant attention to long and frequent load times is the arena sequence, in which the player must endure a loading screen before and after every match, many of which can last up to a minute. The PC version of the game also uses loading screens, but on newer systems the load time is dramatically reduced from the Xbox version.

Another area that attracted some concern was the ease of the battle system. Even on higher difficulty settings the tactics are rather facile and tend not to change. For instance, the player attacks until the opponent blocks, the player then uses the special attack to break through the block, and the process is thus repeated. However, enemies being immune to certain styles forces players to diversify their skills, and some encounters require special techniques to win (to defeat one boss, the player must knock down some pillars to collapse the cave, while another boss is able to become immune to certain attacks at will.)

Some have claimed that the game is too short. However, it takes longer to complete if the player completes various side-quests along the way, and replay value is added with the different endings and the ability to follow the Way of the Open Palm or the Way of the Closed Fist. According to the developers, the average playtime is approximately 26 hours (assuming that no dialogue or cut-scenes are skipped and all the quests are undertaken.) Compared to BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic, there is less variety in locations (for example, Jade Empire only has one major city and two small towns, one of which is inaccessible after a short time)

Awards

Awards include:

  • E3 2004 Game Critics Awards: Best Role Playing Game[14]
  • Electronic Gaming Monthly’s June 2005 Game of the Month award.
  • Included on Game Informer’s “Top 50 Games of 2005″ list.
  • Gamespy’s 2005 Xbox RPG of the Year, Top 10 Xbox Games of the Year.
  • IGN’s Xbox RPG of the year; XBox game of the year; Best Story on Xbox 2005; Best Artistic Design on Xbox.
  • Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’: RPG of the Year; Outstanding Character Performance: Female.
  • MetaCritic’s RPG of the Year, 2005.

See BioWare’s page on their official Jade Empire site for a complete listing.

Versions

Limited edition

A “Limited Edition” of Jade Empire was available for those who pre-ordered the game. Eventually, they came to the shelves also. The Limited Edition version has a different box art than the original. It has a red, reflective background instead of the sky blue, and the words “Limited Edition” was printed on the bottom of the name. This version of Jade Empire was packed with an extra disc that contained the data for the character model Monk Zeng, a magic type character, a “Making of” video by G4, and three game demos; Forza Motorsport, Conker Live & Reloaded, and MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. The game itself is also slightly different; the first staff that can be chosen is Tien’s Justice instead of the Golden Star.

Special edition

The PC version of Jade Empire is known as the “Special Edition”. It is based on the Xbox “Limited Edition”, and also includes the Monk Zeng character, but not the Tien’s Justice weapon style (both of which are available in the limited edition described above). Changes from the Xbox version includes increased resolutions up to 1600×1200 (1920×1200 in Widescreen), new special effects and redrawn textures, two new martial styles named iron palm and viper, a new rhino demon transformation, new monsters, new high level weapons, an improved AI, with enemies able to take cover more often; a new “Jade Master” difficulty level, with ability to import savegames; a new world map interface; and keyboard and hotkey support. It also contains a bonus art book and poster.

Like the original version, the Special Edition has also been criticised for being too short and for having rather easy battles using a simplistic battle system, getting an average review score of 83% according to GameRankings. Other criticisms included a lack of cheat codes, and the ease of changing your alignment (hence changing the ending) at a point near the end-game which effectively discounts any good/evil deeds you’ve done for the majority of the game.

Misc

John Cleese lent his voice to game. His role was that of an “outlander” named Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard, stranded in the Imperial City of the Jade Empire. His character is essentially a British colonialist stereotype who refers to the people of the Jade Empire as savages in need of enlightenment.

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