As of yesterday, UK gamers had a four week wait to play Halo 2, a title which was, and is, undoubtedly the biggest hitter in Microsoft's Q4 line-up. Now, barely a week after Bungie made the announcement we've all been waiting for, and confirmed that the game had been completed, a fearless/stupid pirate has made the game available online, for impatient gamers to download, almost a month before the game's official release.

It all happened early yesterday morning, as a number of newgroups and websites made the pre-release leak obtainable to the world via the BitTorrent download medium, shaking the world of gaming to it's very core. As word spread of the development, gamers were shocked at Microsoft's failure to keep such a high-profile game under wraps until much, much closer to release. It is safe to say that heads will roll over the situation, be they those of the downloaders, or the source of the leak themselves.

Shortly after the news spread, Microsoft issued a press release, condemning the pirates as guilty of "theft", and making it known that they are actively pursuing the identities of those responsible, and retribution will, undoubtedly, be swift and unmerciful. The company's statement follows in full:

"Microsoft has learned that a version of Halo 2 has been posted to various newsgroups and web sites. We consider downloading this code or making it available for others to download as theft. We are currently investigating the source of this leak with the appropriate authorities. Pending the result of our investigation, we do not have further comment. Microsoft takes the integrity of its intellectual property extremely seriously, and we are aggressively pursuing the source of this illegal act.

The launch of Halo 2 worldwide remains unaffected.

We're asking anyone with information on the source of this leak to contact Microsoft at 1-800-RULEGIT or send email to [email protected]"

Thankfully for Microsoft, they can take comfort in the news that the leak is French-dialogue only, with English subtitles, and can be played only on modified consoles, which are in the possession of no more than a small minority of Xbox owners.

In addition to this "silver lining", it is likely that most people who download the game will have access to a high-speed internet connection, which will no doubt result in them purchasing the game at retail, for the purpose of playing the title's highly promising online component.

However, the news is certainly embarassing for Microsoft, and it will be interesting to see what punishment will be imposed upon the sources of the "theft", if they are ever caught.

The game, which we previewed here, is due to hit UK shelves on November 11th.