If you've ever wondered whether your roommate, friend, family member or loved one is a closet video game geek, try this simple test:

Ask them what they're doing on Monday night. If the answer is anything other than "playing 'Halo: Reach,'" chances are they're not.

While the much-anticipated release of Bungie Software's fifth incarnation of the hugely successful "Halo" franchise for Microsoft's Xbox 360 console isn't due until September, the company is providing a sneak peak beginning next week through its "beta" multi-player launch.

The beta -- or test version -- of the first-person shooter will be available for free to those who have in hand a copy of the last Halo release, "Halo 3: ODST," or those loyal "Halo 2" players who received invitations directly from Bungie.

Reportedly, the beta will include a handful of maps to explore and several different types of games.

Brian Jarrard, community director for Bungie, told the Seattle Times last week that he expects upward of 3 million people to play the beta -- making it one of the most massive tests of a pre-launched video game in history. To put that in perspective, the studio has said about 800,000 people tested the beta version of "Halo 3."

While "Halo: Reach" returns to what genre aficionados will be most familiar with -- the epic battle between Spartans and the Covenant alien race -- it also extends the Halo gaming experience into a new planet and a new set of primary characters.

"Halo: Reach" arrives Monday.
"Halo: Reach" arrives Monday. (Copyright, Bungie Studios, 2006.)

The ability to get a glimpse of that new world early has video game geeks and fans of the franchise stocking up on Red Bull and Doritos.

"It's going to be an awesome game play," said Duane Tyler, manager of the Boulder Game Stop store at 2760 Canyon Blvd. "They added a bunch of new weapons."

Some early online footage of the game play has also hinted at a new ability for characters to fly -- which would be a major change to the game's experience.

"There's a rumor of it," Tyler said of the jetpack-like devices. "I'll believe it when I see it."

Tyler said he's anticipating a rush this week on "Halo 3: ODST," which in most cases is required to play the beta. At discounted prices of $40 for a new copy and $30 for a used one, Tyler expects his largely college-age consumers to flock to the store.

When "Halo 3" was released, the Boulder game store had more than 600 people standing in line at midnight to be among the first to get a copy. Tyler said he expects more of the same for the full release of "Halo: Reach" this fall.

"It's gonna be a big deal," he said.