With 14.5 million units of the first two 'Halo' games already sold, Microsoft is counting on the third chapter of the Halo trilogy to provide a solid holiday revenue stream later this year, and also to help bolster sales of the company's Xbox 360 next-gen gaming platform -- the only platform for which Halo 3 will be released.
The upcoming Halo 3, which is being developed jointly by Microsoft Game Studios and Bungie Studios, will feature a variety of new levels, weapons, vehicles, and game types, but most significantly, extensive multiplayer capacity. Gamers will be able to compete in one of three maps -- Snowbound, High Ground, and Valhalla -- with other Halo 3 players around the world.
Bungie has also made an effort to make the effects in the game more realistic: Dead bodies float in space, grenades bounce off hard surfaces and sink into snow drifts, and bullets ricochet off walls.
Multiplayer Beta Planned
Beginning May 16th, Microsoft will take the unusual step of conducting a three-week multiplayer beta of the new game. Access to the beta test was offered to Xbox users through a special promotion that ended earlier this year, but specially-marked boxes of the Xbox game "Crackdown" also contain a key that can be used to log in and download the Halo 3 beta test.
Bungie Studios will monitor the online action and use the data collected to help refine the development of Halo 3 before its release next winter.
Halo 3 continues the legacy of 'Halo: Combat Evolved' and 'Halo 2' which have "changed the face of console gaming forever," according to Shane Kim, corporate VP of Microsoft Game Studios. Years after its launch, Kim pointed out, Halo 2 still reigns as "the No. 1 title" on the Xbox LIVE network.
According to Microsoft Game Studios, Xbox live subscribers have spent an estimated 800 million hours playing the first two episodes of the Halo series on Xbox Live. Put another way, that's nearly 1,200 human lifetimes spent doing nothing but trying to blast the evil creatures of the Covenant.
Last Friday, Microsoft hosted events in New York and San Francisco so that game reviewers could preview the Halo 3 beta. Although Microsoft's Kim predicts that Halo 3 will be bigger than Halo 2, reviewers say that the game definitely needs some more work.
TeamXbox.com reviewer Brent Soboleski (aka "Shockwave") offered a fairly typical assessment: "The maps were well designed and well laid out, but graphically, they just didn't give that 'next-gen' feeling of the more immersive surroundings that we've come to expect from the Xbox 360. Halo 3's environments are definitely not bad looking, but they just don't seem to have that level of detail that makes us feel as though we are being transported from our living rooms to another world."
Soboleski reminded his readers that since the game is still in beta stage, Bungie has a number of months to polish the visuals. "That said," Soboleski added, "I will also point out that as it is today, the game actually holds up very well for a beta."