Gamers are breathless to get their hands on the video game "Halo 3," which gets a worldwide launch to rival a Harry Potter book at midnight tomorrow. Bungie, the arm of Microsoft that created the Halo franchise, has upped the ante on weapons, vehicles, power-ups and other features, causing a fan frenzy for this third edition of the game. Here's a sample of what's new:
The bad guys get the bulky Brute Spiker and Gravity Hammer, among other new weapons. But the best buzz has been for the Spartan Laser, which can tear vehicles apart and has been hailed as "our favorite" by Wired magazine. "Modeled on a powerful real-life laser, it can destroy an enemy in one shot."
"That is a devastating weapon," Kevin Pereira says with unabashed admiration. Mr. Pereira is the host of "Attack of the Show" on the G4 cable network, which has three days of programming planned around the "Halo 3" launch. Although the laser is designed to destroy vehicles, it has other obvious applications when facing enemies in battle.
Existing weapons, like the Energy Sword, have been refined or enhanced, and previously stationary turret-mounted guns now can be detached with a push of the controller's "X" button. In early demos, "this aspect had crowds literally standing up and cheering," Pereira said.
If the weapons seem unbeatable, don't fret. Bungie has thought about that, too, and offers the new Bubble Shield. To explain, Mr. Pereira paints a verbal visual of a character suddenly facing a well-armed enemy.
"[The enemy] thinks he's got my number, because in a previous Halo experience, I'm dead. I have a pistol, he has a rocket-launcher. You don't need rock-paper-scissors to know I'm dead. Except what he doesn't know is, I've got a new power-up called the Bubble Shield. Which means the moment he shoots that rocket, I push a button, and a translucent sphere of protection comes up around my character, and other teammates from my side see this, they run up, they're within the bubble of protection, and they open fire.
"And this poor gentleman who thought he had my number with the rocket-launcher quickly learns that 'Halo 3' is a much different experience online."
Vehicles and equipment
They've doubled to 16 models, including the Mongoose ATV, a two-seater designed for recon, and the Brute Chopper, a transport that's also effective in combat. Cinematic enhancements will have players seeing old favorites like the Warthog, "which used to drive around and or blow up, those were it's two states of duress," notes Mr. Periera. Now, tires will fly and glass will shatter, "so you're seeing your old favorites completely demolished in entirely new ways, which gamers are always OK with."
There's also a "man cannon" that launches characters into the air, much like a jump pad. It allows first-person players to fly over a battlefield and view the terrain for miles.
Besides the Bubble Shield, look for the mostly self-explanatory Tripmines and Gravlift and the barrel-shaped Jammer and EnergyDrain.
Xbox Live, the online entertainment network for players, has been refined and improved. Up to 16 players can play online with others of similar skill, and the new Four-Player Cooperative Campaign Play allows a team, at home or online, to work together through a single campaign. Partners can compete online for the highest standing in the Campaign Scoring system.
And because Halo players like to share, Bungie has added the ability to record and save a memorable match, which had Mr. Pereira particularly enthusiastic: "Rather than having to call up your buddy and swear that you did this awesome move and this cool thing -- he's never going to believe you -- now you can press a button, save the replay, upload it online, again, all with a single button press through Xbox Live, and your buddy can download that replay, watch the match played back, even fly his own virtual camera through there and record it."
Next generation now
"Halo 3" has been set to morph into a Hollywood movie in 2009. But why wait? The graphics and the audio in previous Halo games have been first-rate, and "Halo 3" promises next-generation, high-definition visuals with high dynamic range (HDR) lighting that adds to the realism.
Periera reveals one more thing, saying "I think might still be off the record, but I'll say it anyway": A customization feature will allow a player to change the environment in real time, such as adding buildings -- or, as one tester did, creating a baseball scenario.
As if it wasn't cool enough to just play the game.
Sharon Eberson can be reached at 412-263-1960 or email@example.com . First Published September 23, 2007 4:00 AM