"Halo 3," the highly anticipated video game from Microsoft Corp (MSFT), won high praise on Sunday from game reviewers who gushed over the lush settings, cinematic feel and array of multiplayer features.

The game, the final chapter of a trilogy that began in 2001 with the launch of Microsoft's original Xbox, is a key part of the company's strategy to take a bigger share of the console gaming market from Sony Corp (SNE).

Gaming news Web site GameSpy gave "Halo 3" five stars, its highest ranking, saying it was so good that it was worth buying an Xbox 360 just to play it. The Xbox 360 costs $280 to $450, depending on features.

"Quite simply, 'Halo 3' is the reason the Xbox 360 exists," GameSpy said.

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Since "Halo 3" is the game industry equivalent of a new "Harry Potter" book or "Star Wars" movie, few expected it to be a flop.

Specialty gaming retail chain GameStop Corp (GME) said the title set a record for advance orders while Microsoft has said it expects initial demand to surpass that for 2004's "Halo 2," which racked up $125 million in its first 24 hours.

The game went on sale at midnight on September 25.

Reviewers did voice a few complaints. Some said the game's graphics, while impressive, fell short of titles such as Take-Two Interactive Software's (TTWO) "BioShock" and "Gears of War," also from Microsoft. Others said the behavior of computer-controlled enemies wasn't very realistic.

"Will 'Halo 3' live up to the hype? No. There isn't perfection here. There isn't an absolute, please-all quality," said gaming blog Joystiq.com, though it added that the game was still a must-have.

Most critics said any shortcomings were more than made up for by unprecedented variety that includes a cooperative mode that allows four people to play together online, and editing tools to let gamers modify levels to compete against each other in "deathmatch" competitions.

Dan Hsu, editor-in-chief of gaming magazine EGM, gave the game a perfect 10 rating.

"It's such a huge package. It's hard to imagine something gamers don't like here," Hsu said.

GameSpot, another top gaming news Web site, weighed in with a rating of 9.5, saying the new features refreshed the familiar feel of the "Halo" universe.

"When you roll all this stuff together ... it really feels like a dramatically different game, and a dramatically bigger game. It comes together in an amazing package that is definitely one of the year's best," GameSpot said.