The eagerly awaited sequel to the award-winning Halo video game has been delayed.
Halo 2 promises better game play and graphics
In a note on its website, developer Bungie Studios said Halo 2 would not be released until 2004.
The news will disappoint fans of the first person military action shoot-'em up, who had expected the title to be in the shops by Christmas.
Halo: Combat Evolved is the most successful game yet for Microsoft's Xbox and the delay in the release of its sequel could undermine sales of the console.
The original Halo came out with the launch of the Xbox in November 2001, going on to become the console's must-have game.
So far it has sold more than a million copies worldwide.
When Microsoft announced a sequel last year, it said the game would be shipped at the end of 2003.
We know many of you were hoping to get your hands on Halo 2 during the holiday season, and we're sorry to disappoint you
The statement by Bungie was prompted by speculation about when the game would be in the shops.
"We're still not ready to pick a specific release date, but we do want to state for the record that Halo 2 will not ship in 2003," said the company.
"This game is a vast undertaking, considerably more complex than any of our previous efforts, and there is just no way to squeeze all of the necessary work into this calendar year," said the company.
"We know many of you were hoping to get your hands on Halo 2 during the holiday season, and we're sorry to disappoint you - but making this game as good as we possibly can is our paramount concern."
Halo 2 titbits
Halo 2 is expected to build on the adventures of a genetically enhanced super-soldier called Master Chief as he faces a coalition of alien races.
Bungie is promising more action and weapons, better graphics and a multi-player option to face other gamers on Microsoft's Xbox Live service.
Halo has proved a huge success on the Xbox
"Halo 2 is a lot like Halo, only it's Halo on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas," said Jason Jones, the head of Bungie Studios when he announced the sequel in August 2002.
Gamers on a message board hosted by Bungie seemed prepared to wait.
"Personally I don't mind waiting a bit longer. We've got just under a year to go and a few more months won't make much difference," said one gamer.
"Maybe a lot of us are over-reacting but it seems like if this early they announced that it won't make 2003, then maybe they know wholeheartedly that they're looking at a game that's way off from being done," said another.
The good news for fans of the best-selling game is that Bungie will offer them a taste of Halo 2 at the video game industry's main trade show, E3 in May in Los Angeles.