Halo 3 landing September 25

Microsoft's long-awaited shooter arrives earlier than expected in North America and Australia; European release September 26.

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For a while, 2007 was looking a lot like 2004 as far as games go. After a light summer, the release schedule will grow very crowded come fall. The packed calendar is topped by Grand Theft Auto IV, due on October 15, and Metal Gear Solid 4, which has no firm ship date, and Halo 3. The third installment in Bungie's sci-fi shooter was given a 2007 release at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Conventional wisdom has been that it would follow its two Xbox forbears and arrive in mid-November, three years after Halo 2 and six after the original Halo: Combat Evolved.

Today, though, Bungie Studios revealed that Halo 3 will break with tradition and arrive nearly two months ahead of its anticipated mid-November launch. The Xbox 360-exclusive shooter will ship on September 25 in North America and Australia, and will ship in Europe the following day. The game has not yet been rated, but is available in three different retail packages: the $59.99 standard edition, the $69.99 limited edition, and the $129.99 "Legendary Edition" complete with a replica of the Master Chief's helmet.

Halo's new ship date also calls into question the presumed release window for another one of Microsoft Game Studios' top 360 titles of 2007. Most online retailers listed Mass Effect, the forthcoming Xbox-exclusive sci-fi game from celebrated Canadian developer BioWare, as coming in September. However, in light of the Halo 3 announcement, it seems unlikely that MGS would release two of its tentpole titles within three weeks of each other, as it would cannibalize sales. However, Microsoft spokespersons had not answered inquiries about Mass Effect as of press time.

For more information, check out GameSpot's recent hands-on preview of the Halo 3 multiplayer beta or view one of the gameplay movies below. The beta is scheduled to roll out throughout the day on Wednesday, and Microsoft is further fanning the flames of anticipation by releasing a special Halo 3 edition of its Zune MP3 player. When it goes on sale next month, the Zune: Halo 3 Edition will come preloaded with content from the game, including videos, soundtracks, trailers, artwork, and television spots.

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