Blockbuster-to-be 'Halo: Reach' shores up the summer

Labor Day has definitely come and gone: Kids are back in school, the whites are being put away and Microsoft has released its first blockbuster-to-be for the third quarter in the form of Halo: Reach.

Yes, original series developer Bungie is treating us to one last round of Spartan lore before handing off the license to Microsoft Game Studios. And even in the grips of an inexorable recession, the nerdery titters in anticipation, clutching sweaty debit cards to plunk down anywhere from $70 for the game, released at midnight Monday, to as much as $150 for the title's Legendary Edition, which features a pack-in plastic statue of the ill-fated characters so large you could club someone to death with it.

And so, seeing as how I just Monday received my own copy (presented in a tidy metal briefcase complete with copious production notes and a branded 360 controller), a review will be coming soon. Not that it matters. The Halo franchise is worth billions, with Part 3 bringing in $300 million in U.S. sales in its first week back in 2007 (preorders for Reach topped 2 million copies). With the glowing reviews already pouring in from websites across the Internet, it's apparent this is no ODST minichapter — Halo: Reach may live up to the hype.

But with such interest in the fictional world of Halo, with its comprehensive beastiarium, labyrinthine subplots and excruciatingly detailed account of the ongoing battle between humans and the Covenant, I can't help but wonder if the inescapable press-launch blitz is even necessary. A Halo prequel could be about Sgt. Avery Johnson's mustache grooming tips and still break a few records.

But not marketing the game would ignore the fact that while the multiplayer crowd gives each title longevity, it's the storyline that keeps them coming back, no matter how maligned it may be. Every Halo geek wants to know the origins of John-117, drools over the idea of being a part of the doomed Spartans of Noble Team and is giddy with excitement over the "darker storyline" promised in promotional materials, namely, the destruction of the entire human populace of the planet Reach.

That says an awful lot about the narrative power of games these days. While the gamer side of our brains is looking for the next big gameplay surprise, a la the gravity hammer or man cannon, the very fact that Bungie has created a world compelling enough for us to want to experience the parts we haven't seen before speaks to the medium's rise from adolescence into full-blown awkward adulthood.

Now, if only they could translate those splendid live-action commercials into a feature-length movie, the cross-promotional tie-ins will reach meta status. Give it time.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

Blockbuster-to-be 'Halo: Reach' shores up the summer 09/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 4:23pm]

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