On Friday, Microsoft held an invitation-only preview for its upcoming Xbox 360 game, "Halo 3," and company executives boldly predicted at the event that the game would outsell "Halo 2," a record-setting blockbuster game title for the original Xbox. Microsoft also expects "Halo 3" to give the Xbox 360 a competitive edge over Nintendo's strong-selling Wii and the Sony PlayStation 3, which appears to have stumbled in the market.

"Halo 2" was an overnight success. When the game launched in November 2002, it sold 2.5 million copies in its first day of availability alone. Today, "Halo 2" is still one of the most played online games and one of the most successful video games of all time. Clearly, "Halo 3" has some big shoes to fill.

"Halo 3 is going to be bigger than 'Halo 2,'" said Shane Kim, the corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios. "Retailers know what 'Halo 2' did and they are not going to want to be caught out of stock." Microsoft marketing director Craig Davidson concurs. "There's a significant number of people just waiting for that one \[killer Xbox 360\] game," Davidson said. "And this is the game." Consumers, Davidson said, will buy an Xbox 360 just to play "Halo 3."

Gamers at Friday's preview event, however, were quick to point out a glaring problem with "Halo 3," and one which I had been wondering about myself: The game doesn't appear to offer much of a graphical advantage over its predecessor, despite the Xbox 360's superior graphics capabilities. "The graphics can use some work," one gamer told Reuters. "They're not much different than the previous Halo. When I compare it to other things in the platform, it's not standout."

Microsoft will begin a semipublic beta test of the game's multiplayer mode next Wednesday, May 16. However, the "Halo 3" beta test is apparently closed. To participate, you need to have previously purchased a specially marked version of the game "Crackdown" or won entry into the beta test through one of several online contests. The "Halo 3" beta will consist of three multiplayer maps, Microsoft said, and will be available through June 6.