Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday it will release its "Halo 3" video game on Sept. 25, a hugely anticipated event that the software giant hopes will help drive sales of its Xbox 360 gaming console.
"Halo 3" is the final installment of Microsoft's flagship video game franchise in which players assume the role of a futuristic soldier trying to turn the tide in a war against an alien army. (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)
The game is expected to be a potent weapon for Microsoft as it fights Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co. Ltd. for dominance in the $30 billion global video game industry.
The first "Halo" launched alongside the original Xbox in November 2001 and helped the newcomer console gain a foothold in the market.
"Halo 2" debuted in November 2004, racking up $125 million in sales in its first day and cementing the popularity of the Xbox Live online service that lets players compete against each other in frenetic "deathmatch" sessions.
By moving up the launch of "Halo 3" to the month of September, Microsoft is betting it will spur sales of Xbox 360 consoles, giving it a larger user base in time for the year-end holiday season that is the high tide for video game sales.
"This is going to be a critical holiday for us versus Sony, especially on the console generation side, and they don't really have an answer for 'Halo 3'," Shane Kim, head of Microsoft Game Studios, said in an interview.
"Given that, I suspect 'Halo 3' to drive a lot of Xbox 360 sales and Xbox Live memberships," Kim said. "I think at those midnight (launch) events, there are going to be a lot of people walking out with an Xbox 360 along with their copies of 'Halo 3'."
Microsoft gave a sneak peak at its “Halo 3” game on Friday. Gamers at the invitation-only preview gave mixed reviews.
“The graphics can use some work ... They’re not much different than the previous Halo,” said Nicholas Puleo, editor of gaming news Web site Evilavatar.com.
“They’ve got five, six months until release, so they’ll add some polish ... When I compare it to other things in the platform, it’s not standout.”
Microsoft staged previews in New York and San Francisco on Friday in advance of the public test, or “beta,” of the game, which went live Wednesday and is scheduled to run for about three weeks.
A surge of gamers trying to download the game quickly overwhelmed the system sparking howls from eager gamers. Microsoft called for patience on "Halo 3" message boards.
Kim said several hundred thousand people had signed up for the test, or beta, which is intended to work out any remaining kinks in the game and make sure the Live network can handle thousands of matches at the same time.
A public beta is unusual for a console game, and the “Halo 3” one for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is being closely watched by gamers eager to know how the title looks and plays, and whether it will live up to the buzz.
The game will go on sale in Europe on Sept. 26 but Kim said Microsoft had not set a date for Japan, where the Xbox 360 has been eclipsed by Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3.
Kim reiterated his view that "Halo 3" would enjoy a bigger launch than "Halo 2", saying the number of people who had already paid some money to ensure they can get a copy at launch — known as pre-ordering — was "pretty encouraging."
The regular edition of "Halo 3" will sell for $60, with two limited editions going for $70 and $130.