Just like an early press screening to build buzz for a film, Microsoft showed its biggest game of the year, "Halo 3," which comes out this fall for the Xbox 360, to a crowd of videogame journalists in San Francisco Friday.

Just like an early press screening to build buzz for a film, Microsoft showed its biggest game of the year, “Halo 3,” which comes out this fall for the Xbox 360, to a crowd of videogame journalists in San Francisco Friday.

First two “Halo” games were amongst the biggest sellers in the industry’s history. Third installment is one of the most anticipated games of 2007, along with “Grand Theft Auto IV” and a new “Super Mario” game.

But developer Bungie, owned by Microsoft, only showed off one of the highly anticipated game’s two types of play. Journalists got to play the well established multi-player setting, in which games try to blow each other up, in teams or on their own, via the ‘Net.

Much of the fervor for “Halo 3,” however, has been built around the franchise’s solid storytelling told in the single player game. Bungie wasn’t ready yet to give journalists even a glimpse of it on Friday.

Instead, visitors had a chance to sit down and play multi-player matches endlessly on three maps.

While the graphics initially impressed with details like realistic rippling water and buildings that get damaged by gunfire, that luster faded as some graphic glitches pop up. Some items depicted in the games, things like a fluttering leaf or distant snowy hill, were drawn with jagged lines instead of smooth ones.

But graphic flaws can be forgiven in a game not yet complete and the gameplay, while perhaps a touch too reminiscent of its predecessors, is solid and at times innovative.

Most of the weapons in the game have been heavily tweaked for “Halo 3″ and the developers added a few new ones. More interesting though, is that the game features equipment you can use in battle alongside the weapons, like a shield that people can pass through but gunshots can’t and a device that drains energy from opponents, making it easier to kill them.

“Halo 3″ also gives players the ability to save a video playback of their best in-game performances and share it with their friends online.

What was shown Friday promises to deliver an evolutionary, if not revolutionary, improvement in “Halo’s” online gameplay.

But what of the single player campaign? Bungie Community lead Brian Jarrad says that the game’s story will be wrapped up in “Halo 3″ and won’t end in a cliffhanger, like “Halo 2.”

“This is the final chapter in the story,” he said. “The story is going to end with Halo 3. But I’m definitely not going to say that this is the last ‘Halo’ game for Bungie.”

Halo 3

Production

Microsoft Game Studios, Bungie Software

Crew

Fox Xbox 360

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