It’s a Friday night. The weather is foul but the prospect is fine. An evening with Microsoft, Bungie and their offspring, Halo 3, the beta.

Now, I for one love press events. A central London location, a nice venue, and lots of free booze and food. In this case it was the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street, continental beers, and gourmet finger food … a tray of black pudding and scallops was thrust my way as soon as I entered the blue lit Fenchurch Room. Anyway, we’re not here to discuss such flipperies…

Against the back wall of the room was a line of 6 plasma screens and 360s, all under an awning and all with a huddle of journos around each one, all eager to jump on and give the Halo 3 beta a go. And didn’t it look good.

The first thing that strikes you is the quality of the graphics compared with Halo 2. A lot of the same elements are there – weapons, vehicles – but all a whole lot shinier, more finely detailed, and, well, sexier. Everything flowed beautifully. The movement of bodies, both alive and running around, and dead and blown through the air, was great, and particularly impressive was the water effect.

One of the maps, Valhalla, has a stream running through it, and a gorgeous stream it is too. Crystalline water burbles mellifluously, quite unaware of the carnage happening all around it, even if bodies do end up floating about in it.

Eventually it was my turn to jump on. There were two teams, blue and red, three on each team and I’m afraid to say that I well and truly let my side down. The first killed in action, and it wasn’t going to be the last time either. In fact I forget how many times I bit the dust. I’ll blame it on the inverted controls I was using.

Nevertheless, it was fun.

I repeat, Halo 3 is a winner. What more is there to say? Things have been tweaked and changed enough to make you feel like you’re playing a new game but with enough familiarity to let you buy into the continuing story.

First Impressions

It’s a sure winner, and the rumoured pre-orders are well deserved (if a little far fetched at 4 million) so I guess the rest of us will just have to wait until the lucky few get through with the beta test.

Expect a full review when Halo 3 is out later this year.