Halo 3 hype train kicks into overdrive

Posted by Mark Raby

Redmond (WA) - The build-up to Microsoft's heralded Xbox 360 shooter is almost unheard of, and by this time tomorrow gamers will finally have their retail copies of Halo 3.

It was obvious that there was going to be a Halo 3 from before Halo 2 was even released.  The first big news of the game came out at E3 2006, where many saw it in action for the first time.

Halo 3 remained pretty much a mystery for months after that, with scant updates about what new features the game would offer.  For over a year Halo fans were left waiting in anticipation for the series' debut entry on the Xbox 360.  Then in May 2007, the game's developer Bungie opened up a semi-public beta for hardcore devotees to test it out for a couple weeks.

Bungie would later say that the beta was pivotal in fixing online gaming glitches, and in realizing that it needed to triple server capacity. The beta reportedly saw 350 terabytes worth of downloads. Around 820,000 people in total partook in the online preview.

The game has already set a sales record. It reached one million pre-orders last month, which Microsoft claims makes it the fastest-selling pre-ordered game ever.

Microsoft has said the budget for Halo 3 marketing will be its biggest ever for a single game.  There is already a limited edition Mountain Dew drink created specifically for Halo 3.  The game's mascot, Master Chief, also made a conveniently timed debut at Madame Tussauds wax museum in Las Vegas.  Microsoft is springing for official launch parties in several cities coast-to-coast.  In the coming weeks a tie-in with Burger King will kick off, and a special Halo 3-themed Pontiac will be available.

Not to be outdone, nearly the entire line of Xbox 360 accessories has been given a Halo 3 makeover with special edition headsets, controllers, and faceplates.  A special edition Xbox 360 with Halo 3 theming will also hit stores tomorrow.

Halo 3 is also the first first-party title from Microsoft that will be available in three different editions.  The standard $60 game, a special edition $70 package, and a "legendary" $130 game will adorn the massive Halo 3 displays at retailers nationwide.  Many stores will hold midnight sales, giving gamers access to the game as soon as the street date breaks.

The question that remains is whether the hype will prove to be warranted.  There were some vocal critics during the beta, and some skeptics bash the game as nothing more than an incremental upgrade from Halo 2.  Either way, tomorrow will be Microsoft's day as it begins to ride the Halo 3 tidal wave all the way through the holiday season.