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REVIEW: HALO 4 RED SPARTAN WARRIOR
By Thomas Wheeler

Did anybody really think that HALO: REACH was the end of the road for Halo games? Or that we'd seen the last of the ever-popular Master Chief?

Okay, admittedly, when we last saw our noble hero, he'd completed his mission but had also ended up in suspended animation. Halo: Reach was actually a prequel game, taking place before the events of even the first Halo game. But as popular as this concept is, anybody figuring that somebody wouldn't come up with a way to thaw out Master Chief and get him into all kinds of battle scenarios all over again just hasn't been paying attention.

Come on, people, it's science-fiction. They bring people back to life all the time, and Master Chief wasn't even dead -- just frozen, or in stasis, or whatever. (I tend to prefer the term "in stasis" since every time I think "frozen" -- I start thinking about those hamburgers in my freezer.)

So, no great surprise, we now have HALO 4, and Master Chief is back, fighting an all-new, even more dangerous enemy. Of course, since Halo 4 can be played online, Master Chief has plenty of back-up, in the form of lots of Spartan soldiers and warriors.

And also no great surprise, McFarlane Toys continues to turn out an impressive offering of action figures for the concept. Recently, I acquired a red-armored SPARTAN WARRIOR. This review will take a look at this figure, but let's also have a look at the development and storyline of Halo 4, as well as how the Spartans are organized within the Halo universe. Things have changed since Master Chief did his Rip Van Winkle impression...

Halo 4 is the seventh installment in the best-selling Halo franchise for the Xbox 360. Set four and a half years after the events of Halo 3, Halo 4 will continue the story of John-117 (Master Chief) and Cortana left abandoned on the remains of the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn. The two survivors drift toward the mysterious world of Requiem and the ancient evil within.

Halo 4 is the first game developed by 343 Industries, the management team in charge of the Halo franchise, and will be published by Microsoft Studio. The official tag line for the game reads: "Set in the aftermath of Halo 3, Master Chief returns to confront his own destiny and face an ancient evil that threatens the fate of the entire universe. Halo 4 marks the start of a new trilogy that begins with its release in 2012. "

Halo 4 marks the return of John-117 as a playable protagonist after three Halo games focusing on different sets of characters. Having been lost in space for five years after the finale of Halo 3, John-117 and Cortana, adrift aboard the wreckage of the aft section of the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn, find themselves near Requiem, the Forerunner shield world first seen in the Legendary ending of Halo 3.

The story of Halo 4 has been described as being heavily focused on mystery, exploration and discovery, as well as being grand in scope and scale. Forerunner elements are featured extensively. The game also shows how humanity and the UNSC have adapted to the post-war world, particularly how they have co-opted Forerunner technology into their military devices and assets. The Covenant returns in the game, in the form of a remnant faction, consisting of Sangheili and their former Unggoy and Kig-Yar subordinates still loyal to the tenets of the Covenant religion. However, the Covenant are taking a backseat to an entirely new antagonist, the Prometheans, an elite class of Forerunner Warriors and their legendary leader known as the Didact, which has been said to be a "threat beyond anything that Master Chief has faced before." The subject of Cortana's ongoing rampancy, a year beyond her ideal functional lifespan, is also thoroughly and prominently detailed in Halo 4.

Unlike Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 4 is designed to be part of a three-game arc from the beginning. In addition, 343 Industries is aiming for more complete connectivity among all of their future media than that of the original trilogy; the Forerunner Saga and Kilo-Five Trilogy novels, and the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary terminals have been stated as "definitely" having "resonant connections" to Halo 4's story. The third and final Forerunner Saga novel, Silentium, is expected to be released on March 19th, 2013. Frank O'Connor noted that Silentium will be released after Halo 4 for "specific strategic reasons" likely referring to the connectivity of the game and the novel. A live action mini-series, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, provides a backstory for several characters set to appear in the game; this series consists of five episodes totaling 75 minutes. The Halo 4 Collectors Edition will include a 90 minute extended cut of the series.

Halo 4 begins on July 20th, 2557, four years and seven months after the armistice ending the Human-Covenant War. Cortana, laying silent for years, notices that the ship's intruder alarms have activated and attempts to wake John-117 from cryo-sleep. Cortana notifies him that in his sleep, she rewrote the firmware of his MJOLNIR Mark VI armor, upgrading the HUD, armor capabilities, while giving a new overall appearance. With alarms ringing and the intruders spreading to multiple decks, John slips Cortana's chip back into his neural interface and upon opening a sealed hatch, unpressurized rooms rip him from the deck and send him into the vacuum. After climbing up an elevator shaft, suddenly, a Sangheili swordsman comes charging at the Spartan. After a brief close quarters engagement with the soldier, he kicks him down the shaft to his death. John questions the AI construct on why his once-formidable allies have attacked them, to which she has no answer. After fighting the Sangheili and their "repatriated" Unggoy subordinates, John makes his way to the aft observation deck, viewing a large Covenant fleet surrounding the Forward Unto Dawn while multiple boarding crafts dock with the heavily damaged aft section of the frigate.

John and Cortana subsequently make a crash-landing on the Forerunner world Requiem, entering the inner planetary shell via an entrance in the Dyson sphere-like superstructure. Recovering a Warthog, Master Chief and Cortana vow to make their way back to Earth in order to find a cure for Cortana's escalating Rampancy. They set out to find a way to contact the UNSC, circumventing the powerful jamming field surrounding the world.

Fighting through numerous Covenant hunting parties, Master Chief is attacked by advanced Forerunner defense drones which Cortana identifies as Prometheans. Evading or destroying pursuit, John attempts to warn the approaching UNSC Infinity of the dangerous artificially-induced gravity field that had caused the Forward Unto Dawn to crash.

After disabling two control nodes, it becomes clear to John that a great threat had once been imprisoned within Requiem. The Didact, the Forerunners' greatest warrior and the individual responsible for firing the Halo Array 100,000 years ago, remains in suspended animation within a Cryptum. Easily disabling John with his powerful abilities, he declares the return of the Forerunners as the galaxy's rulers and saviors. Humanity remains weak and unworthy in his eyes of inheriting the Mantle, a view rejected by his wife, the Librarian. Having always revered the Forerunners as gods, the Covenant quickly swear alliance to the Didact and his armies. The Didact views the Covenant as mere primitives, but permits them to serve his cause, to prevent the ascension of the human race to galactic prominence.

Narrowly escaping the collapsing command center, the Chief and Cortana returns to the planet's surface only to find their warning to the Infinity came too late. The warship crashes more than 70 kilometers away, with a massive force of Covenant and Prometheans closing on their position.

Evading capture, John is successful in regrouping with a group of SPARTAN-IVs and Marines led by Commander Thomas Lasky. Recognizing the Chief immediately, Lasky asks John and Cortana to clear a landing zone so that Infinity's ground forces can fall back to the ship which has fallen under siege. Commandeering a Scorpion tank, John leads the attack to the crippled vessel alongside Commander Sarah Palmer's Spartans. Using the UNSC's latest weapon, the Mantis exoskeleton, John rallies a force of nearby Marines and regains control of the ship's interior. After reinitializing the secondary MAC guns and missile batteries, the tide turns in the UNSC's favor. Two CCS-class cruisers and dozens of dropships are destroyed in the artillery barrage, while the Didact's Cryptum is forced to retreat.

With a momentary lull in the fighting, John is called to a strategy meeting with Andrew Del Rio, Captain of the Infinity. Skeptical of the threat of the Prometheans, Rio orders an immediate attack on a Forerunner gravity well generator preventing the ship from leaving. A strike force of Spartans led by John is deployed along with a Mammoth-class ultra heavy ground vehicle supporting the attack. Facing daunting odds, the UNSC is able to defeat a large armored strike force of Covenant and Prometheans and they disable the gravity beam. Before reaching his objective, John is confronted with a vision from the deceased Librarian, who warns him of the Didact's true plans.

In ancient times, the human race was once a great interstellar empire -- and isn't that something of a shocker. Fleeing from the Flood and destroying any world tainted with their presence, they came into contact with the Forerunner ecumene. Ignoring their warnings about the dangers posed by the parasite, the Forerunners led by the Didact defeated and imprisoned humanity upon their homeworld. Weakened by the struggle, the Forerunners were easy prey to the resurgent Flood. Despite this, the Didact planned to use the Composer, a device capable of transferring organic consciousness to software format to escape the Flood's infection. But the process was flawed, and the humans used as test subjects were corrupted, becoming fit only to function as the AIs of Promethean war-frames. This failure necessitated the firing of the Halo Array. Opposing the Didact for her own reasons, the Librarian provides John a gift: a medical treatment to counteract the Forerunner's devolution of the human genome, and a means to resist the Didact's plan to enslave the human race once again.

Regrouping aboard the Infinity, Captain Del Rio dismisses the threat of the Prometheans and prepares the ship to depart the system. Defying direct orders, John takes the increasingly unstable Cortana and departs the Infinity. Armed with a Pelican gunship provided by Commander Lasky, John launches several attacks on support pillars providing the Didact's Cryptum with shields and power, with the goal of preventing him from leaving the planet and attacking Earth and other colonies.

This attempt ultimately proves unsuccessful, as the Didact leaves Requiem aboard his vessel, escorted by a flotilla of Covenant ships. Stowing away aboard a Covenant ship, Master Chief pursues the Forerunner to Ivanoff, a UNSC research base orbiting Halo Installation 03 where the Composer is kept. Dr. Sandra Tillson, a lead researcher aboard the base, helps guide John to the artifact amidst a swarm of Covenant attackers. Despite reaching the artifact first, the Didact is successful in obtaining the Composer, tearing it out of the station's hull with a gravity beam. Testing the weapon, the Composer burns the crew of the station to ash, assimilating their knowledge to power additional war machines. The Master Chief survives, thanks to the genetic enhancements provided by the Librarian.

With the Composer in the Didact's possession, the Forerunner is poised to deal a deathblow to the UNSC, and by extension humanity. Racing back to Earth aboard a Broadsword fighter stowed on the outer hull of the Didact's ship, the Master Chief is surprised to find the Infinity and a UNSC fleet waiting for him. Flying below the Forerunner vessel's shields, John is able to destroy the ship's point defense guns, allowing Infinity to bombard its hull. Entering through a breach in the armor, John fights his way to the Didact's location.

Despite their best efforts, the Didact begins to fire on Earth with the Composer, annihilating New Phoenix, URNA. Armed with a HAVOK portable nuclear device, John confronts the Didact once again. While John is unable to hurt the Forerunner with conventional attacks, Cortana, nearing the end of her life, disables the Didact's armor and immobilizes him with hard light bindings. With the last of his strength, John uses a pulse grenade to destroy the Forerunner's armor and detonates the nuclear bomb manually.

With the last of her power, Cortana is able to teleport John away from the vessel before it was destroyed and meets with John for one last time inside a bubble of hard light. Overcome with emotion, John remarks that he was supposed to have protected her. Cortana insists that they were supposed to protect each other, and did. Using her hard light body, Cortana is able to actually touch John for the first time, which she says that she's been waiting to do for a very long time. Smiling and seeming at peace, Cortana welcomes John home, and then fades away completely, dying. The Master Chief drifts in space amidst the debris of the Didact's ship for a time before being recovered by a UNSC search-and-rescue team. Later, John speaks with Lasky about the loss of his closest friend and companion. Aboard the Infinity, John rejoins Palmer and the other Spartans, preparing for their inevitable next battle, and his MJOLNIR Mark VI armor is removed for the first time in years -- no doubt for a good cleaning.

The Didact, seemingly surviving the destruction of his ship, gives a speech in the battle's aftermath, swearing his vengeance against humanity will continue, and he will see the Forerunners return to power at any cost. Meanwhile, a UNSC team investigates the city of New Phoenix, where the Composer's energy beam was directed; although the infrastructure of vehicles and buildings are completely untouched, its former human inhabitants are gone.

While their defeat at Earth proved a set back for the Promethean/Covenant alliance, it did not result in their defeat. Months later, the Infinity returns to Requiem with a complement of Spartans, determined to reclaim the planet. This tour forms the background for the Spartan Ops mode.

As for the Spartans themselves, as usual, they are genetically-enhanced, armored warriors wearing the powerful battle armor that has become such a trademark of Halo. But they're organized a little differently this time around.

The Spartan branch is the fifth and newest branch of the United Nations Space Command, responsible for command of special operations undertaken by the Third and Fourth generations of augmented soldiers. This branch was established in the years following the apocalyptic Human-Covenant War on the orders of Admiral Margaret Parangosky, Commander-in-Chief, Naval Intelligence. Its activities across the galaxy are classified much like their predecessor organizations.

The beginnings of the fourth generation of the venerable Spartan programs began shortly before the end of hostilities in the Human-Covenant War. Admiral Parangosky, who had signed off on the previous second and third generations out of necessity, believed that the kidnapping of children for years of harsh training, especially the flash cloning of covert replacements, was unethical. Because of this, the elderly director of Naval Intelligence ordered that future Spartans would be consenting adults, all of whom handpicked by Beta-5 Division for their exceptional service during the war, mainly from special operations units from across the armed forces; the only other supersoldier program to use adult volunteers were the ORION soldiers of Naval Special Warfare Command, who were created to fight the growing Insurrection in the Outer Colonies (Ironically, the Fours would come to serve in a similar capacity, fighting resurgent colonial rebellions)

Originally, Parangosky was to give command of the SPARTAN-IV program and ultimately Spartan branch to the Army veteran and ONI confidant Colonel James Ackerson - the mastermind behind the third generation program which trained, augmented, and graduated nearly a thousand Spartans into her command between 2531 and 2552. Serving under him, presumably in a scientific role to enhance the augmentation procedures and spearhead new technologies, would be Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, MD, PhD, matriarch of the second generation program. However, neither would come to serve the SPARTAN-IVs; Colonel Ackerson was executed as a war prisoner aboard the Triumphant Declaration following his defeat at Mare Erythraeum in November 2552 while Dr. Halsey became trapped within the Forerunner shield world Trevelyan, later to be exiled to Ivanoff Station orbiting Installation 03 and then onboard the UNSC Infinity by Admiral Parangosky.

Due to the overwhelming successes of "CHRYSANTHEMUM" and its near-zero mortality rate, it is likely that all fourth-generation candidates survived as well. It is unknown how many Spartans have been augmented with fourth-generation protocols, or the number of distinct training classes, but it is noted that a number of candidates were given gene manipulation therapy prior to 2552. Training was conducted in various places, particularly the virtual reality deck aboard the highly advanced warship Infinity, then located in the Oort cloud beyond the Sol system. The surviving SPARTAN-III supersoldiers were requested by Admiral Parangosky and Naval Intelligence for reassignment to Spartan branch in early 2553. The active SPARTAN-IIs, the iconic legends of the Class of 2525, were given the choice of "pulling together" the remaining SPARTAN-IIIs and integrating them into the SPARTAN-IV program, but it is unknown whether or not the SPARTAN-IIs themselves were asked to join the command or if they did.

The Halo 4 game was released in November 2012 to great acclaim, and as for that live-action mini-series which is hopefully available at some point on DVD. I've been saying for years that a live-action Halo movie would be an instant blockbuster at the box office, but attempts have always come up short, usually during legal negotiations. I still think it needs to happen, but this is something, anyway.

I just wish I was even halfway decent at playing video games. I'm not, I don't even own an XBox of any sort, and I'd probably just shoot myself in the foot if I did. Still, I like to think I know a cool concept when I see one, and at least I can enjoy it through the action figures, which brings is back around to this Spartan Warrior.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. I'll admit that over the years, I haven't always been impressed with McFarlane Toys. I've never been a fan of Spawn, I don't care for their horror-movie line, nor for their sports line of statues. But they have done some very impressive merchandise, and certainly that includes their HALO products! And if this Spartan Warrior is any indication, then their product line will continue to be impressive through the newest video game tie-ins.

The Spartan Warrior stands about 5-3/8" in height. This is an unusual scale that, honestly, really isn't shared by anybody. It's obviously taller than any of the 4" scale figures around these days, but shorter than any of the 6"-or-so figures such as Marvel Legends, DC Universe, WWE, or Masters of the Universe. I'm not saying it's a bad size -- it isn't. But your Halo figures really aren't going to play well with others...

This is obviously an entirely new figure, in keeping with the new armor designs of Halo 4. I'm reluctant to call it more "streamlined", since we're not exactly talking Iron Man here, or even Clone Troopers. The armor is very heavily detailed with all sorts of panels, layers, segments, sections, gadgets, and little techie details all over it. This is what one has come to expect from the combat armor in Halo games. But the armor does still manage to look somewhat more advanced than its predecessors.

The Spartan armor consists of a black undersuit, itself rather armored, covered with layers of heavy, sophisticated armor that protects the wearer's anatomy as well as provides other technological capabilities. The armor comes in a wide variety of colors -- and indeed, for Halo 4, there are armor patterns in the game that are even exclusive to certain retailers -- and in previous games, especially Halo 3, the various specialties were distinguishable by helmet type and the design of their chest and shoulder armor.

I'm not entirely sure that's the case with Halo 4, since to date, especially when it comes to action figures, I've heard about Spartan Warriors, Spartan Soldiers, and of course, Master Chief. The various divisions from Halo 3, such as EOD, CQB, ODST, and so forth -- I haven't heard about those yet.

This particular figure is specifically listed as a Spartan Warrior, and his armor color is red. The helmet design isn't too close to any previous Spartan division I've encountered. It definitely doesn't look like Master Chief's, with the large gold faceplate. The Spartan Warrior's helmet is much more all-encompassing, with a sort of armored muzzle across the front, and extensive layers of protective armor on the top and sides. Vision is restricted to a fairly narrow gold slit across the front, deeply set in black, and with a little ridge at the bottom in the center, not quite dividing the eye-slit in two.

The rest of the body armor is interesting. It seems to have more curved lines and fewer straight angles in it than before, while still maintaining a fairly bulky, and definitely layered look to it. The back is especially unusual, as it seems to have some sort of extra equipment installed near the shoulders, that protrudes outward somewhat, even being slightly separated from the rest of the armor, and looking a little more technological. As to what this might be, well, someone who's played the game might know. I don't. It's an impressive design, though, and even more impressive for it to be carried out on an action figure.

Despite being a little less angular than previous Spartan armors, there's still plenty of sculpted details, including panel lines, rivets, screws, and other tiny little details that really show off a lot of attention to the sculpt, and result in a most impressive figure. Many of these tiny details have also been painted -- very neatly, too, I might add.

The figure has been given a certain amount of weathering, mostly in the form of a light brushing of silver over some of the armor parts, to make it look as though the red paint has worn away in battle. I don't usually approve of this sort of thing, but the world of the Halo video games is a rough place, and we can't always break out the touch-up paint and armor polish. Here, it sort of works, and admittedly, it's the sort of thing that McFarlane Toys specializes in.

The articulation has been reworked somewhat from previous Halo figures. One area in particular that has been redone is the leg articulation at the hip. McFarlane's earliest Halo figures had a design that was not only far too complex, it didn't even work very well. This Halo 4 Spartan Warrior has the most straightforward leg articulation I've seen yet. The leg moves well forward, backward, and outward. It lacks the upper leg swivel of many of the Halo Reach Spartans, but this was almost redundant, anyway, given that there was a rotation at the knee, which has been maintained.

Easily most unusual, however, is the front of the foot articulation. McFarlane Toys has put what I might call a "toe group" or "boot front" articulation in many of their Halo action figures over the years. It's still here, but this time, it not only includes an expected back and forth movement, but there's a ball-and-socket rotation in it, as well!

Now, the human foot does not typically move like this. Maybe if you were to run somebody's foot over with a truck, it might move like this, but under normal circumstances, it doesn't. Maybe Spartans are a little more limber than us ordinary humans. In any case, while I certainly don't object to a well-articulated toy, especially when the articulation can be so effectively worked into the armor design as it is on these Spartans, this has to be the oddest place I've ever seen a ball-and-socket articulation design.

The whole of the Spartan Warrior's articulation includes the head, arms, elbows, including a rotation, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, including a rotation, ankles, and the fronts of the feet. There is no waist articulation, but that's not especially unusual. One thing about the new armor design. Anything resembling a belt line as on previous Spartans is no longer present. It's one of the more noticeable differences in the overall design.

The Spartan Warrior comes with a very large and impressive rifle for an accessory. One thing he doesn't come with, that surprised me a little, was the tiny little grenade that seemed to be ever present across multiple figure series for multiple Halo games. These glorified BBs were nicely made, but I've got all of mine stashed in a Ziploc bag around here. They were so small, they were just asking to get lost in the carpet. Funny, but I almost miss them.

One sort of offbeat note. The Spartan Warrior was strapped into his package with what I would call a plastic wire. Not a plastic coated wire -- just a plastic wire. I've never seen anything quite like this. I've seen figures strapped into packages with those plastic-coated wires, that take wire cutters to undo. And Hasbro tends to use string a lot these days, especially on Transformers, which is a lot easier to deal with. But this? Plastic does not typically act like wire. This stuff does. Very weird.

So, what's my final word? It takes a special video game concept to rise above the hundreds of playable wannabees that comprise the modern video game world. Halo, for over ten years, has earned its top spot, and indications are that Halo 4 is going to keep it there, and McFarlane Toys is going to keep it in the action figure aisles with more cool figures.

Certainly that includes this Spartan Warrior, who is well made, very sturdy -- something else McFarlane Toys seems to specialize in -- these figures look like they could withstand a lot of hard play, even if they don't get any from me, well-detailed, and certainly well-articulated. I believe that any Halo fan will welcome this Spartan Warrior into their Halo collection.

The RED SPARTAN WARRIOR from HALO 4 definitely has my highest recommendation!