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LI stores get ready for 'Halo'

There's no hard and fast way to tell whether Master Chief,

the hero of the "Halo" video game trilogy, is more popular now than Pac-Man

once was. But Pac-Man's image was never plastered on hamburger wrappers or on

the hood of a NASCAR racer, and a Pac-Man statue has yet to be erected at

Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas museum.

The third and final installment of the top-selling game goes on sale

Tuesday. According to Microsoft, whose Bungie subsidiary developed the Halo

game, more than 10,000 stores in the United States will be opening their doors

at midnight Tuesday to accommodate fans who've already prepaid their $60 or

more for "Halo 3."

"Anything with a good story line works and 'Halo' has one of the best story

lines," said Louie Tsang, who works at GameStop in Roosevelt Field, one of the

stores planning an early opening. "In 'Halo,' there's hours of game play, but

no cursing and no blood. It's not as violent as some other games."

Tsang's opinion notwithstanding, "Halo 3" is rated M, for mature players,

and teens under 17 won't be able to buy the game unless they're with a parent

who OKs the purchase. Judging from the eerie, atmospheric television commercial

airing now - accompanied by a soft piano and featuring no game play footage

nor spectacular computer-generated graphics - "Halo 3" wants to be art as much

as it wants to be exciting.

Initially released in 2001 to generate buzz for Microsoft's then-new Xbox,

"Halo: Combat Evolved" began an epic good guy-bad guy battle that pitted a

super soldier against the evil Covenant. "Save mankind" was Master Chief's

bottom-line instruction.

One of "Halo's" main attractions is that it allows multiple online players.

"Online play is always changing, with different people joining in," said

Michael Delaura, a 16-year-old from Manhasset. "Halo 3" is supposed to enhance

online play, as well as add high-definition video and graphics.

In 2004, when "Halo 2" arrived, it grossed $125 million in its first 24

hours on sale. But it was considered a disappointment by some game-playing

experts and the company vowed that "Halo 3" would be better. Nonetheless,

first-day sales of "Halo 2" were more than the worldwide box office generated

by "Spider-Man 3" in its first day in theaters back in May. With the hype for

"Halo 3" dating back nearly a year, game market observers expect sales of 2.5

million copies (ranging from $60 to $130 for a "limited edition" copy) on the

first day.

THE WORLD OF 'HALO'

GOES ON SALE 'Halo 3,' available Tuesday, 10,000 stores

EXPECTED DAY 1 SALES 2.5 million copies at $60 or more per game

RATING 'M', meaning those under 17 must be accompanied by a parent to

purchase

INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS Save Mankind. Believe. Finish the Fight.

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