Halo 3 launch

Microsoft rolls out the red carpet.

Last night, Microsoft rolled out the red carpet for Halo 3. The UK launch, held at London's IMAX cinema, was supposed to be just like a movie premiere. It was supposed to show games finally joining the mainstream party, the crowd stepping aside as Master Chief, flanked by pop stars and TV celebrities, led the way to the bar.

It wasn't and it didn't. Games might have joined the party, but they're still standing in the kitchen picking at Pringle crumbs and talking amongst themselves. Master Chief might have been flanked by a pop star, but chances are the pop star barely knew his name and was only there for the beer. The TV celebrity might have been famous for only four months, but it was her the mainstream media were trying to get off with.

There were plenty of Master Chief fans there all the same. They were dedicated enough to stand in the rain outside the IMAX and watch the stars arrive - the stars being Pharrell Williams, Christian Slater and Chanelle off of Big Brother. There were others walking down the red carpet, but they were mostly met with blank looks and shouts of "Who are you?" from the crowd.

Standing in the crowd was 25-year-old Londoner Ahmet Devici, who wasn't there for the celebs - "I'm here to see the game. I've read a lot of conflicting reviews and I don't know what to think. I've seen a lot of videos and it doesn't look that impressive. Maybe today will change my mind, maybe it'll blow me away."

Unsurprisingly, considering the focus of the event, all the crowd members we spoke to declared themselves to be dedicated Xbox fans. "I've never owned a PlayStation and I don't intend to. They're overpriced," said Devici. "The Wii's fun, but only Wii Sports is fun, and I wouldn't pay GBP 120 to play tennis."

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Some of the attendees said they owned a Wii, but none would admit to having bought a PS3. Why not? "There aren't any games for it," was one reason given, along with "the lack of exclusivity", "Xbox Live's better" and, time and time again, "the price." And of course: "Halo's on Xbox. Why buy a console that doesn't have Halo?"

Self-titled "Xbox person" Gary Thompson, 28, had travelled all the way from Aberdeen for the Halo 3 launch. "It's going to be an amazing game," he predicted. "Judging by the first one, the second one, the trailers and the beta - it just looks the business. Better than anything else."

What about suggestions that it hasn't pushed the series forward as much as fans might have been hoping for? "If it's the same as Halo 2 that's no bad thing, because Halo 2 was so good. If it's just improved a little bit - fine," said Thompson.

There were only a handful of women in the crowd, certainly less than at the launch of The Burning Crusade and none wearing elf ears. 20-year-old Holly Bennett from South Wales said Halo wasn't her favourite game, or even her favourite FPS - she'd come for the event first and foremost. "Ten years ago you'd never have this for a launch of any game or even a console," she observed. "Gaming is mainstream now, it's finally being recognised."

Unlike most of the people trooping down the red carpet. It was time to leave the crowd behind (including the bloke shouting, "I recognised someone! 100 points!") and head into the IMAX foyer, where the drink had run out and the journalists were getting restless. Luckily, reinforcements arrived before everyone was ushered into the cinema and the show began.

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It began with a movie recapping Halo's history. Talking heads were shown describing it as "more than just a videogame", a phenomenon which "changed the face of entertainment forever". The movie was only projected onto a middle portion of the giant screen and Master Chief looked a bit blurry blown up to 1000 times normal size, but it was still rather exciting.

Iain Lee, TV presenter, gamer and host for the evening, was jolly excited. He introduced Bungie's Joe Tung and Lee Wilson to the stage, and they proceeded to demo a Halo 3 level. To jeers from the audience - comprised mainly of competition winners - they set the difficulty level to "normal" rather than "heroic", with Tung claiming this was due to a lack of skill on Wilson's part.

Then it was time for the night's main event, or so Microsoft would have it - a Halo 3 match on Xbox Live, played by celebrities in various cities across Europe. The celebrities included Carmen Electra, LL Cool J and, as Lee described them, "the Italian Chuckle Brothers", but representing the UK was Pharrell Williams.

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