In just the first 24 hours, "Halo 3," the latest installment in Bungie Studios' hit sci-fi video game series for the Xbox, raked in a whopping $170 million, making it the biggest entertainment event in history.
For hours and, even, days, fans waited outside of video game stores, ready to plunk down the last of their savings — or, more often, their allowances — just to have a chance to walk in the shoes of Master Chief, Earth's greatest defender, once more.
For months, viral advertising campaigns, teaser videos and sneak peaks have whet appetites for a game that is unofficially estimated to have cost $25 million to $40 million and years to make.
It's for those reasons, the fans' rabid loyalty and passion for the "Halo" franchise — plus the time, effort and financing behind the first "Halo" game for the powerful Xbox 360 video game console — that make it hard to understand how the game could fall so flat.
For all the waiting, hype and hopes put into "Halo 3," it unfortunately comes off as an experience we've already had, with little more than a new paint job.
A Brief History of 'Halo'
"Halo 3" is a hard game to jump into and just as hard to read about if you don't know the history. For those of you already familiar with the story, skip down to 'Déjà Vu All Over Again?'
Master Chief is the last of an elite super-soldier team and is aided by a sexy AI sidekick, Cortana. In "Halo," our hero fights to save Earth from an alien menace known as the Covenant, only to find a greater threat on the mysterious ring-shaped world of Halo. The Flood, a galaxy-consuming parasite, appears to have been imprisoned on the artificial world Halo by a long-vanished race known as the Forerunners.
When the Covenant accidentally releases the Flood, Master Chief sets in motion a plan that destroys Halo and stops the parasites.
Of course if he had actually stopped the threat, we wouldn't have been treated to "Halo 2," where our hero returns to Earth as the Covenant launches an invasion of the planet. But after fighting the horde off, Master Chief discovers that its leaders, religious zealots known as the Prophets, have found another Halo and believe activating it will turn them and their followers into gods.
If that wasn't enough to contend with, a civil war has erupted within the Covenant. Some follow the Prophets' misguided plans, while others side with the Arbiter, an elite Covenant warrior who's discovered that the Prophets have been misleading their people.
Sent on a suicide mission to the city-ship of High Charity to thwart the Prophets' search for the Ark, a device capable of preparing the Halo rings to destroy all life in the galaxy, Master Chief fails and is only able to survive the ordeal by inserting Cortana into the ship's computer network, leaving his beloved companion behind.
'Déjà Vu All Over Again?'
"Halo 3" picks up sometime after the escape from High Charity. Haunted by images of Cortana and the voice of the Gravemind, essentially the leader of the Flood, Master Chief returns to an Earth nearly decimated by the Covenant without Cortana.
Landing in the lush jungles of East Africa, Master Chief is reunited with his cohorts and the elite alien soldier the Arbiter, once an enemy and now an ally.
At this point the player takes over and it's time to shake off the cobwebs and get some practice moving and fighting.
Graphically, this segment of the game is really different from what we've seen in previous installments. Unfortunately it plays exactly like the previous games.
Covenant forces are comprised of essentially the same creatures, wielding the same weapons — save a few exciting additions — and mostly the same vehicles, as "Halo" and "Halo 2."
There are some notable exceptions, like the "gravity hammer," which is a blast — no pun intended — but if all you're looking for is "more of the same," "Halo 3" will satiate your appetite.
Most of the game outside of the opening sequence takes place in settings familiar to anyone who's played a "Halo" game before. Coastlines and nondescript hilly rural environments are popular, but it seems the developers have a particular fondness for corridors.
As in previous games, Master Chief spends a great deal of his time fighting his way through the metallic hallways and through the grand chambers of spaceships and alien bases.
But "Halo's" popularity is not limited to the games' single-player campaigns. In fact it's the online multiplayer aspect of the game that has sold more than a few copies. Fans of the kind of fast-paced friend-on-friend sci-fi action "Halo" made famous, will get more of what they love.
There are also some tools to allow the technically inclined to make their own game maps and even weapons for use in multiplayer matches. It's too early to tell, but many gamers are already hailing the addition of the "Forge" as a major innovation and one that will add years to the game's playability.
As far as story-based action games go, "Halo 3" is a bit of a disappointment. But, for fans of the series who want to both finish a "Halo" game as quickly as possible but never want to see the closing credits roll, here's another episode.
If you weren't a "Halo" fan before, you're unlikely to be converted by "Halo 3."
"Halo 3" is rated M for Mature by the ESRB and includes blood and gore, mild language, violence.