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Mideast edition, Sunday, September 23, 2007

Master Chief and the Arbiter are heading back into action — and gamers in military communities overseas can join the assault on Tuesday.

The highly anticipated “Halo 3” for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console goes on sale Tuesday at stateside stores and at Army and Air Force Exchange Service facilities.

“All AAFES main stores worldwide will have enough to support demand,” AAFES spokesman Chris Ward said. “Initial procurement for worldwide AAFES stores is 18,000 copies.”

In addition, each main store will receive a copy of the $129 Legendary Edition, which contains two bonus discs and Spartan helmet case, to raffle off for free, Ward said.

The standard game will cost $59.95.

The first-person shooter developed by Bungie Studios for Microsoft is the third and final episode in the adventures of the space marine known as Master Chief.

At the end of the second game, the paths of Master Chief and an alien known as the Arbiter converged as they struggled to destroy a series of menacing space structures known as Halos.

While the story might capture the imagination, it’s the online multiplayer shootouts that grab a lot of fans.

Almost three years after its release on the old Xbox console, “Halo 2” remains the most-played game on the Xbox Live network, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is banking on this background to push the new game — as well as tens of thousands more Xbox 360s.

In fact, Microsoft recently reported that more than a million copies of “Halo 3” had been pre-ordered, and the console’s sales in August were up 63 percent over the previous year.

Microsoft believes release-day sales will eclipse those of “Halo 2,” which set a record with $125 million in sales on its first day alone.

Trying to nudge this along, Microsoft has unleashed an immense marketing blitz, including a “Halo” paint scheme on a NASCAR car; a Spartan-green edition of the Xbox 360; midnight sales at more than 10,000 stores; plastic game figures; and special cups at 7-Eleven.

It has even commissioned a series of short films re-creating combat and other aspects of the “Halo” universe in live action.

They’re available at games.yahoo.com.

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