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By Thomas Wheeler

There can be no question that in the vast and incredibly diverse world of video games, HALO is one of those concepts that has managed to rise to the top of the massive and crowded mountain. Partial proof of this would certainly be the additional products that have emerged from the concept. There has been a comic-book mini-series, a line of paperback novels, and a line of action figures -- which up until the arrival of HALO 3 was handled by Joyride Studios. As of the newest game, McFarlane Toys acquired the license.

If there was any question as to the effect this would have on the popularity of the toys -- go try to find them. Your local Wal-Mart, or Toys "R" Us, or Suncoast Video, or GameStop, or Spencer Gifts, has probably had them in stock already. And they've probably blown out so quickly that if you're lucky, you might see empty shelf space. Fortunately, a representative from McFarlane Toys was kind enough to send me a few samples for me to review for MasterCollector.

Now, I'll admit that I've never played the HALO video games. Part of this is due to the fact that I don't own an XBox 360. But the greater reason for this is -- I'm just not very good at video games. Born in the wrong generation, I suppose. I grew up during a time when there was no Cable TV, no personal computers, and no video games. We played board games. I still own Monopoly, Battleship, Stratego, and a few others. The first video game I ever played was a "Pong" game mounted into a tabletop at a hotel when my parents and I were on vacation in San Diego in the mid-1970's.

Oh, I try. But I'm just not that good. I can play a video game as a mighty wizard, a powerful warrior, or a huge, high-tech robot, and I'll still get beaten in record time. I have the feeling that if I tried to play HALO, I'd probably make Spartans more extinct than they already seem to be in the game. Better I should stick with the action figures, and one of the ones that McFarlane Toys was kind enough to send me was called the BRUTE CHIEFTAIN.

One thing about HALO -- there's no question that the aliens are the bad guys. This isn't Star Trek, where one can expect to reason with relatively humanoid adversaries such as Romulans or Cardassians, or Star Wars, with its mixture of friendly and enemy aliens of wide and varying types, some cute, some ugly, some bizarre. The aliens in HALO are all pretty much ugly, mean and nasty with it.

I never paid all that much attention to the aliens in the HALO action figure line when Joyride Studios had the license. Unfortunately, as well-designed as their appearances might have been, Joyride had an unfortunate habit of cutting the articulation. Their Master Chief and Spartan figures were as well articulated a Marvel Legends figure. But their aliens were another matter entirely. Occasionally pre-posed, they were often limited in articulation to head, arms, and legs. That disparity just plain bothered me.

McFarlane Toys has been much more fair in its distribution of articulation in its HALO 3 line, and while I suspect that, as I'm able to obtain them on my own, I'll still be sticking with the Spartans for the most part (so I tend to favor troop figures -- talk to my Clone Troopers about this...), I am pleased to see that McFarkabe is putting just as much effort into the aliens of HALO as they are the Spartans.

As for the Brute Chieftain. So, what was my first impression of his appearance? Wow, talk about ugly. How to describe this thing in understandable terms? If you took a gorilla and crossed it with a rhinocerous, gave it an ornate set of armor and an even nastier attitude than that combination would likely already have, I think that'd come pretty close.

For one thing, he's huge. Master Chief measures 5-1/4" in height, and according to his background, he's supposed to be close to seven feet tall. This Brute Chieftain is about 6-1/2" tall, Do the math on that. And he's a lot more powerfully built.

I was able to track down some background information on the character: The official name of the Brute Chieftain is "Tartarus". What, you expected "Fluffy"? I'm not sure why that name wasn't used on the package, except that perhaps given its mythological connotations, it might not have gone over too well in the toy aisles. The name "Tartarus" is the name for the deepest part of the Greek underworld.

The character's personality is described thusly: Rough, arrogant, and disdainful of the Elites, Tartarus is completely dedicated to the Prophets' "Great Journey". Halo: Contact Harvest reveals that Tartarus became Chieftain after killing his uncle and seizing the Chieftain's weapon. Tartarus makes his first appearance in the novel Halo: First Strike, as one of the first Brutes allowed into the chamber of the High Prophet of Truth. In HALO 2, Tartarus acts as an agent of the Prophets, branding the Arbiter for his failures. The Chieftain later appears when the Arbiter tries to retrieve the activation index of Delta Halo. On the Prophets' orders, Tartarus takes the Index and pushes the Arbiter to what was intended to be his death in the deep central chasm of the Library. Tartarus heads to the control room of Halo with the Index in order to activate Halo, but is confronted by the Arbiter. Blind to the Prophets' deception about the Great Journey, Tartarus activates the ring...

...aaaand, I don't really want to spoil the rest of it for you. Nice guy. Hope he gets shot out of an airlock someplace. In a review of the character, UGO Networks noted that whereas the Elites "are a precision scalpel", Tartarus was a "baseball bat" that smashes everything in its path.

The design of the figure is incredibly intricate. Very little of the Brute Chieftain's body actually shows through his armor, but where it does, he's furry. This can be seen on the head, hands, and feet. The undersuit underneath the armor is a very intricate design, almost looking like some sort of chain mail, and has been sculpted for the figure with great precision.

The armor is also very extensive and complex. Although perhaps not as complex in design as the Spartan armor, the Brute's armor is bulkier -- as is the figure itself -- and it is certainly to the credit of McFarlane's designers that they were able to work this armor into the design of the figure and still give it as significant a range of motion as it has. But the overall detail is remarkable. It's almost as if the longer you study the figure, the more detail you see. Although the largest sections of armor are comparatively smooth, it is those areas, especially around the mid-torso on the front and back, where the armor has been "assembled", that the intricate detail really comes through, and the toy company certainly did not skimp in this in the slightest.

The Brute Chieftain is not that I would call a colorful character. His fur is dark grey, as is the undersuit beneath the armor, which is black with red trim and silver highlights. The face of the figure -- seriously ugly -- shows red eyes and an open mouth, very deeply sculpted, with a red tongue and a series of jagged white fangs. The detail work on the sculpt is really superbly well done here.

The Brute Chieftain is wearing a massive head-piece, that included a huge spike over the muzzle, a couple of spikes out to the side, and a large, flat extension over the head. Did I say this reminded me of a rhinocerous? Scratch that. More like a triceratops, seriously. Definitely triceratops. There is red patterning on the large flat area and the central spike.

The armor on the chest, arms, and legs manages to be surprisingly futuristic-looking for an otherwise somewhat primitive-looking individual. It looks as though it was made by very sophisticated means, not just hammered together over some primitive forge. The armor is carefully plated, and mostly black, except for some red detailing here and there, with very ornate and very carefully-painted silver trim. This is especially evident on a sort of loincloth hanging from the waist.

The Brute Chieftain has a large, angular shield, black with red trim, that is mounted to his left lower arm. This does not appear to be removable. It looks as though it could have both defensive and offensive uses.

One of the more interesting areas of detail is the armor on the upper back, where three small cables are plugged into two sockets. These obviously hads to be individually molded and assembled. Credit to McFarlane Toys for this level of detail work.

The armor is painted in a very flat, matte black, which is in rather stark contrast to the metallic sheen given to Master Chief and the Spartans. It is, I am sure, intended to make the Brute Chieftain seem that much more terrifying -- as if he needed the help. The red areas are somewhat more glossy in appearance, and the silver trim is quite bright, although rather limited in its use.

Attention to painted detail is quite remarkable. There are some tiny little circle details, not many of them, on the front and back of the Brute Chieftain, and these have been painted green.

The Brute Chieftain's articulation is excellent. McFarlane Toys is making a point out of mentioning the articulation on the packages. Granted, some of McFarlane's product lines are more articulated than others. They have gone with as high a level of articulation as possible with HALO 3, and it's appreciated. The Brute Chieftain is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. The knee articulation is a little tricky and somewhat limited because of the figure's very bulky legs, but it is there. And many of the points of articulation have multiple ranges of motion.

I do recommend handling the figure somewhat cautiously. Sometimes McFarlane's figures can be a little fragile. Don't force anything that doesn't seem to want to move easily.

The Brute Chieftain's accessories include, for starters, a huge thing called a "Gravity Hammer". This thing is almost as tall as the Chieftain himself, and looks like it's part hammer, part blade, and nothing that anyone in their right mind would want to be on the wrong end of. It manages to combine a somewhat futuristic design with a decidedly basic purpose -- smash whatever its target is, something I think it could do with very little difficulty, especially if someone as big as the Brute Chieftain is handling it.

The other accessory is a Grenade, something that it appears many of the HALO 3 figures are being packaged with. This is a little piece of cylindrical plastic barely 3/8" in length. My recommendation for this shall be the same across the board, regardless of who it's packaged with. Carefully put it in a Ziploc Bag with however many other Grenades you get as you collect the line, mark the bag "HALO 3 Grenades", and keep it in a safe place. Otherwise, these things are vacuum cleaner bait. I haven't seen an accessory this small for any action figure line in a long time. This thing is too small to even qualify as a choking hazard.

So, what's my final word on the Brute Chieftain? Well, although I do expect to focus my attention on the Spartans as the HALO 3 line continues, I'm glad to have him. And I am very pleased to see that, unlike Joyride Studios, McFarlane Toys is not skimping on the articulation for the bad guys in this line. That makes for a more interesting fight.

If you're at all collecting the HALO 3 action figure line -- and based on its decided scarcity I think there's a lot of you that are -- then you'll definitely want to add the BRUTE CHIEFTAIN to your collection, and he certainly has my recommendation! (Now put down the Gravity Hammer, willya?)