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Whoever coined the phrase "just a game" had no idea just how big a game could get. But New Zealand gamers who queued last night to get their hands on a copy of Xbox 360 sci-fi masterpiece Halo 3 didn't need any prompting.

Video gamers around the world have been waiting with bated breath for the release of the incredibly popular first person shooter, which is produced exclusively for Microsoft's high-resolution Xbox 360 console.

The game is expected to outstrip the record US$151 million ($203 million) netted by Spiderman 3 in its first 24 hours at the box office.

Halo 2 took an impressive US$125 million ($168 million) on its first day.

Herald website blogger the Mad Gamer, one of the few allowed by Microsoft to play an advance copy, gave it a glowing review.

"After five hours of playing," he writes, "I can report fans will find it is all they wished for and more.

"It far surpasses Halo 2 and impresses with smooth graphics, strong storyline and frenetic combat."

Nicole Sinclair from Tauranga won a radio promotion on The Edge FM to become the first in the world to get a copy.

A self-confessed gamehead, the 19-year-old course co-ordinator said she owned copies of Halo and Halo 2 and had pre-ordered the finale when she won the competition.

"All of my friends want to get their hands on it," she joked last night, "but I'm first and it's all mine."

Ms Sinclair said she was excited, nervous and totally stoked to win. "I sit in an office all day and then get home and play Xbox."