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By Thomas Wheeler

When I heard that McFarlane Toys had acquired the toy license for HALO 3, I'll admit I was skeptical. I believed that Joyride Studios had done an excellent job with their action figure lines for HALO and HALO 2, and I also had to acknowledge that there hadn't really been many toy lines in the past from McFarlane that had appealed to me. I was not a fan of Spawn, or of the horror-movie type of merchandise that they seemed to specialize in. Nor am I that much of a sports fan.

Still, one could hardly blame McFarlane or anyone else for going after the HALO license. In almost any aspect of popular culture, there are those representatives within that aspect that rise above the crowd of entries to achieve legendary status. Although that status might be argued somewhat among its constituents, there is generally very little doubt.

The world of action figures would doubtless cite G.I. Joe, Transformers, Power Rangers... The world of professional wrestling would certainly mention such notables as Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan... The rock music would have to place the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones near the top. Video games would likely list Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat...

And HALO. When one considers the astonishing diversity and sheer number of video games that have been produced since video gaming really got going, it's honestly remarkable to me that ANY concept is able to achieve a significant measure of prominence. Unlike other pop culture concepts, video games cross all known genres. I've seen video games for science-fiction, military, TV shows, movies, fighting, role playing, just about every professional sport on the face of the planet -- heck, I've seen video games for Barbie. How does ANYTHING rise to the top of a pile like that? But there can be no question of the fact that HALO has.

One sure indication of HALO's success is the degree to which it has extended into other areas. There is a lengthy series of HALO paperback novels available. There was recently a comic-book mini-series produced by Marvel Comics. I keep hearing rumors of a movie. And certainly, the anticipation surrounding the release of the HALO 3 video game was considerable. There was a special HALO-themed XBox 360 unit. A video game store not far from where I live had someone dressed up in an obviously fan-made but still very capable Spartan armor suit to greet customers.

And now, we have HALO 3 action figures. McFarlane Toys was kind enough to send me a few samples to review here on MasterCollector. Good thing, too, because the supplies in the stores have been disappearing at a ridiculously fast pace. The GameStop exclusive Steel Spartan came and went faster than anyone expected. I'm surprised these figures aren't getting whiplash on their way to the checkout stands. Heck, at this point, I'm half-surprised that the box that was sent to me wasn't hijacked. Probably would've been if the contents had been mentioned on the box.

Fortunately, it arrived safely, and I can officially review McFarlane's HALO 3 Master Chief, and in separate reviews, a couple of other items. Let's consider the background of the HALO concept, and the Master Chief character.

HALO 3, like its predecessors, is set in the fictional Halo universe, taking place during the year 2553. According to the backstory, humans developed faster-than-light travel (using a Fujikawa-Shaw engine attached to a regular space shuttle) and colonized hundreds of planets before encountering the alien Covenant in 2525. The Covenant declared humanity an affront to their gods and began destroying human colonies by turning the planet's surface into glass. Despite efforts to keep the Covenant from finding Earth, a Covenant fleet discovered humanity's homeworld during HALO 2. By the beginning of HALO 3, the Covenant have arrived in full force on Earth, with most human resistance crushed.

Taking place shortly after the events of the comic mini-series, HALO: Uprising, HALO 3 begins with the Master Chief entering Earth's atmosphere and smashing to the ground, where he is found by Sergeant Major Avery Johnson and the Arbiter. The Chief, Johnson, and company fight their way to a UNSC outpost. Here, Commander Keyes and Lord Hood plan a last-ditch effort to stop the Covenant leader, the High Prophet of Truth, from activating a Forerunner (an extinct, highly advanced
race) artifact uncovered in the ruins of Mombasa, Kenya.

The Chief is ordered to clear a way into the city of Voi, and destroy all anti-air Covenant defenses so that Hood can lead the last of Earth's ships against the Prophet. Using the opening caused by the ground attack, Hood mounts an offensive against Truth's ship, but the Prophet activates the buried artifact and creates an enormous, stable slipspace portal which he and his followers enter. As the human ships recover from the shock wave, a ship controlled by the Flood, a parasitic race which caused the destruction of the Forerunners, arrives via slipspace and crash-lands nearby.

Covenant Elite forces, now allied with humanity, arrive on Earth, and glass Flood-infected areas of Earth, neutralizing the parasitic threat. Following the cryptic message from the human A.I. construct Cortana left aboard the Flood cruiser, the Master Chief, Arbiter, Elites, Johnson, Keyes and a handful of marines follow Truth through the portal. Joining them is the Forerunner construct 343 Guilty Spark, who decides to aid the Master Chief, since his ringworld was destroyed in HALO: Combat Evolved. Traveling through the portal, the humans and Elites discover an immense artificial structure--the Ark--which is well outside the Milky Way galaxy. Here, the Prophet can activate all the Halos and purge the galaxy of all sentient life. The Halos were created by the Forerunners as a last ditch effort to combat the Flood, by destroying all sentient life in the galaxy.

And really, if I reveal much more than that, I'll probably spoil too much of the game for those who haven't played it yet.

Of course, the central character of HALO 3 remains Master Chief. This is the main playable character (please don't get me started on the intricacies of online play...) Master Chief, also known as Spartan-117, is one of the last survivors of the Spartan project. A cyborg super-soldier encased in the Spartan armor, even the Covenant forces fear him, beliving him to be some sort of demon. Given what some of those guys look like, I'm not sure if I'd be flattered or insulted by that.

I've always believed that the Spartan armor design, like many of the designs in HALO, was surprisingly effective and plausible. It is an armored uniform, in basic principle probably not too far removed from a Star Wars Stormtrooper or Clone Trooper, at least as far as the basic concept of a fully-armored futuristic soldier is concerned. However, the Spartan armor is much more detailed and rugged-looking than anything seen in Star Wars.

The armor design has changed little between HALO 2 and HALO 3. This is slightly surprising, given that the Spartan armor did see a fairly extensive overhaul between the first two HALO games, although certainly not to the point of unrecognizability. But it seems to have remained pretty much the same between 2 and 3. Not that this is a problem. Heck, it's a cool design -- why mess with it?

The helmet has a sort of angular design to it, with a sloping brow jutting out over the faceplace. Probably practical for keeping the sun out of one's face. The faceplate is a metallic gold. The Joyride figures actually chromed this piece, which looked pretty cool. but McFarlane's bright metallic gold paint works almost as well.

The armor is highly detailed in its design, with a great many ridges and visible assembly plates and such. There is a ridged black undersuit to the armor design, which no doubt has its own protective capabilities.

So -- how's the figure? Pretty darned impressive, really. A few collectors have made comment about its unusual size -- it's about 5-1/4" in height. This is an unusual scale. Compare the figure to just about any other line out there. Master Chief comes up as too tall to work with any 3-3/4" line, but he's too short to work with lines like Marvel Legends, DC Universe, or even Power Rangers. Of course, someone like Master Chief probably wouldn't be caught dead around super-heroes, even if he did have a mini-series published by Marvel.

However, it's a good size. Joyride's figures were nearly 9" in height. You start to get into that size range, and you start to have concerns about available display space. a 5-1/4" Master Chief is more easily accommodated -- as well as all of the various Spartans that are already a part of the line -- assuming you can find them.

The basic physical structure of the figure is excellent. I initially thought that perhaps the torso was a little too small, proportionately, but when I made a comparsion to one of the Joyride figures, it really isn't. If there's one difference between the two, it's that the legs of the McFarlane Master Chief might be slightly bulkier, which is probably where I got that impression from. As far as being accurate to human proportions are concerned, Master Chief might be a little long-legged, but let's chalk that up to the design of the character in the game itself.

The sculpted detailing is truly excellent. Even fine lines on the "fabric" areas of the gloves have been included. It really does seem that every little ridge on the armor or stitch on the undersuit that could have possible been included has been. It's extremely impressive.

The painted detailing is similarly impressive. Here again I must make a comparison to Joyride. McFarlane's Master Chief, perhaps not surprisingly, looks a little more rugged. I won't say battle-worn. Initially, especially to those who collected Joyride's line, it may seem as though Master Chief is pretty weathered and dirty, but he really isn't. Close inspection of the paint work reveals that what McFarlane has done is to paint the ridge lines of the armor. The only real visible battle damage on the figure are a couple of dents on the chest plate, and the figure has not been "dirtied" as has too often been the case with figures from other action figure lines.

Furthermore, the painted detailing of tiny little details on the Master Chief figure is especially impressive. Please take note of the little blue metallic strips close to the knees. Nicely done.

McFarlane has molded Master Chief in the proper color of military olive green, and given him a light overpaint of gold to give him a metallic sheen. There are a few spots on the figure where the gold is more visible than I'd like, but in fairness, this character is supposed to represent Master Chief from HALO 3. Based on the storyline, MC here hasn't had much chance to rest up and maybe polish his armor a bit from the last game. I can accept a certain amount of weathered look.

Let's consider articulation. Joyride excelled at this, and I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from McFarlane. Let's face it, some of their past product has been very well articulated. Some of their product comes across more like plastic statues. I am delighted to report that Master Chief has a ton of articulation! The figure is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, ankles, and "toes". Many of these points of articulation have multiple points of movement. The leg articulation is particularly intricate, and I haven't yet quite figured out how it was designed or assembled. The figure is not the least bit pre-posed.

Most of the articulation points are nice and tight. A few of them a little too much so. Mcfarlane toys do have a reputation for a certain fragility, and I am reluctant to force parts too much, and some of them do stick a bit. I expect I'll probably try a little WD-40 on the left wrists. But as far as the overall articulation goes, it is extremely impressive, although I would exercise some level of caution with it. It's worth mentioning that the age-range on the package to the figure reads, "8+". This isn't a toy that's designed to be tossed around by a preschooler.

Master Chief's accessories include an Assault Rifle and a Grenade. The Assault Rifle is a very nicely made piece of work. One of the things I appreciate about the HALO concept is the plausibility of design. Yes, it's science-fiction and it takes place several centuries in the future. But it's not too hard to imagine an armored suit like this one day being designed for military purposes, and it's not too hard to imagine that someone wearing an armored suit like this would carry around an Assault Rifle that looks like the one that Master Chief has. This is no place for lightsabers.

The Grenade -- is a little cylindrical piece of plastic barely 3/8 of an inch in length, and I mighly recommend getting a Ziploc bag, putting this grenade in it along with any other grenades that you may acquire through the future purchase of McFarlane HALO 3 Spartans, and labeling the bag "HALO 3 Grenades" or some such. Because of you don't, I can pretty well guarantee this thing will vanish into the carpet and be a victim of your next vacuuming.

So, what's my final word on McFarlane's HALO 3 Master Chief? I'm sincerely impressed. The figure is well-designed, well-sculpted, well-painted, well-articulated, and overall well-made. He stands well, and poses well, although I do recommend handling him carefully. And certainly there's no question about the popularity of Master Chief and everybody else in the line. They've been vanishing within days of their arrival in any store where they've turned up. I am hopeful of adding to my collection, and reviewing them as I am able, but I have a hunch that doing so is going to be a long and potentially annoying road, depending on how well McFarlane Toys can ramp up the production and shipment.

I would once again like to thank McFarlane Toys for sending me Master Chief, and most assuredly, the HALO 3 MASTER CHIEF Figure gets my highest enthusiastic recommendation!