Fans of Microsoft Corp.'s popular Halo science fiction action video games met with disappointment on Wednesday after technical problems prevented promised early access to the third title in the series.

People who purchased copies of Crackdown for the Xbox 360 video game console on Wednesday were supposed to gain access to a test or beta version of the online multi-player component of Halo 3, which Microsoft announced will hit store shelves on Sept. 25.

But instead of being able to select an option in Crackdown to begin the 971-megabyte Halo 3 file download, many gamers found that the menu option was coloured grey, signifying that the function could not be executed.

"My button in Crackdown to download the [Halo 3] beta is still grey," a gamer going by the name "atelaphobic" wrote on a discussion board on the Xbox.com website Wednesday afternoon. "Anyone know why?"

"It was open to the press 5 days ago so what's the delay?" another frustrated gamer calling himself Hurrakan wrote. "I played Crackdown last night and it installed an update. I played Crackdown just now and it installed another update. Still no Halo 3 though."

The Halo series developer, Bungie studio, posted a message on the company blog shortly after 10 p.m. ET Wednesday stating that the problems had been repaired, butit could take up to four hours to download the necessary update.

The strong sales enjoyed by Crackdown since it launched in February — more than 900,000 copies — have largely been attributed by industry observers to anticipation of access to the Halo 3 online multi-player beta version.

But the critics have also been quick to note that Crackdown stands on its own as a high-quality game.

"I'll be the first to admit that I bought Crackdown for the Halo 3 beta," Chloe Brown, a Canadian marketing student living in Seattle, Wash., told CBC News Online.

A leader of the all-female PMS gaming "clan," Brown, who goes by the nickname PMS Kitty, said she counted herself fortunate that she didn't have to wait until Wednesday to try Halo 3. Members of the media and others received access to the Halo 3 beta on May 11 as part of Microsoft's "friends and family" program. Still other gamers were granted access months earlier through a lottery process.

But on Wednesday, Crackdown owners found that if they successfully downloaded the Halo 3 file, it would not play, or their consoles crashed after they played a round or two.

Microsoft executive's blog site crashes

Demand for information about the problems Wednesday morning was so high that the volume of visitors to the blog of a Microsoft executive responsible for the company's Xbox Live online network crashed the site.

Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb, director of programming for Xbox Live, posted a plain text message on his site.

"We're aware that Crackdown users are currently unable to access the Halo 3 multiplayer beta via Crackdown," Hryb wrote. "This is not an issue with the Crackdown discs themselves, nor is it a problem with the Halo 3 beta."

Hrybapologized to disappointed fans.

"We sincerely apologize for the delay. We know a lot of you have been waiting for the beta for months, and even took time off of work to start early today."

Microsoft was working on the problems, Hryb wrote, and he said they would be resolved by early afternoon.

But the problems persisted until well into the night. Shortly after 10 p.m. ET Wednesday, Brian Jarrard of Bungie studio — the Halo series developer — posted a message on the company's blog stating that the problems had been repaired.

"We're happy to announce that effective immediately, a title update for Crackdown is available on Xbox Live that will fix the issue that previously prevented you from downloading the beta," wrote Jarrard, who goes by the nickname SketchFactor. "Please note that it could take up to four hours for your console to receive this update."

Jarrard also noted that the beta test period, originally scheduled to end on June 6, had been extended to June 10 to make up for the trouble.

Data to be collected

During the test period, Microsoft will evaluate how Halo 3 and its Xbox Live network interact, an official told CBC News Online.

"The multiplayer beta will be focusing on multiplayer testing," Justin Miers of Microsoft Canada said. "We have a very robust system for testing, so we won't be requesting direct feedback from players."

Microsoft is projecting that Halo 3 will outstrip its predecessor in sales upon launch, Miers said.

"Halo 2 had $125 million [US] in sales on Day 1," he said. "We're planning on breaking that."