Fans flock to buy sci-fi epic "Halo 2"

Tuesday, November 9th 2004, 3:00 pm
By: News On 6

There's a new media king, only he isn't on the radio or in the movies. His name? Master Chief. His role: Interstellar soldier and star of ``Halo 2,'' one of the most anticipated video games ever.

Across the nation, fans lined up for hours at some 7,000 planned ``midnight madness'' events Tuesday to get first crack at the $50 sequel from Microsoft Corp.

Miguel Chavez, a 36-year-old father of two boys, waited about 10 hours at a Toys ``R'' Us in New York City's Times Square to buy his copy of the game. He took along an Xbox console and a projection system so they could play the original ``Halo: Combat Evolved'' to pass the time.

``This is more than just a game for some of us,'' said Chavez, a self-employed computer consultant. ``Productivity in the work force is probably going to go down for the next few days.''

Millions like Chavez have apparently caught ``Halo 2'' fever. Microsoft said it had 1.5 million copies pre-ordered, and predicted first day sales of more than $100 million.

Three years in the making, ``Halo 2'' pits super soldier Master Chief against throngs of vicious aliens called the Covenant.

It picks up right where the first game ended. It's the year 2552, and Master Chief _ a last-of-his-kind engineered fighting machine who wears full body armor and a protective helmet _ has just destroyed a giant ring world called Halo. The ring turns out to be an ancient alien artifact that was built as a last ditch doomsday weapon against an all-consuming life form called the Flood.

After decades of skirmishes with various human colonies, the Covenant has finally found humanity's home world. It's up to the player, who assumes the role of Master Chief, to stop them at all cost.

Getting to play as the lead character is part of Halo's attraction, but Chavez said the real draw is the multiplayer feature. The original game, which has sold 5 million copies, is limited to split screen battles with interconnected Xboxes.

``Halo 2,'' by Microsoft's Bungie Studios, is much more ambitious, allowing up to 16 gamers to play against each other from anywhere in the world using Microsoft's $50 a year Xbox Live service.

``Bungie nailed it with multiplayer aspect,'' Chavez said of ``Halo 2's'' added features. He already plans a so-called LAN party soon where he and friends will connect their Xboxes and form massive battles. To fit it all in the same space, he's considering renting the gymnasium where his 9-year-old son plays basketball.

Greg Kasavin, editor at the video game Web site, attributed Halo's popularity to its story, which is rich for a video game and has been further chronicled in a series of novels and spawned an array of fan offshoots, such as the short ``Red vs Blue'' Internet films.

``Those disappointed by the 'Star Wars' prequels or how 'The Matrix' panned out probably find solace in the no-nonsense action and great sci-fi presented in Halo,'' he said. ``Above and beyond that, though, the original Halo game featured some outstanding, never-before-seen game play.''

``Halo 2'' debuts in the middle of a busy time for video game fans. Several other high-profile games have either recently come out or will be released soon, including ``Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas'' and ``Half-Life 2.''

Kasavin said he didn't expect Halo 2 to affect those other games much, because each one is unique to a particular platform. ``Halo 2'' is Xbox only, while ``San Andreas'' is exclusive to the PlayStation 2 and ``Half-Life 2'' is for personal computers.

Independent filmmaker Brian Josselyn, 30, said he waited about three hours at a mall near his home in Andover, Mass., to buy two copies of ``Halo 2,'' one for himself and one for his brother.

He said video games are simply the newest media to snare a base of dedicated fans.

``Earlier on it was poetry and books. Then it went on to voice acting and radio. Then motion pictures. Games are just the next step,'' he said.