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By Thomas Wheeler

I believe I can say with some confidence that one of the most successful and popular video game series in recent years has been HALO. The very fact that, alongside their ongoing line of action figures based on the most recent game, HALO: REACH, McFarlane Toys is producing a second line commemorating the tenth anniversary of the concept, should be proof enough of that.

Admittedly, Halo is neither the first nor the only video game series to garner an action figure line. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog, and the population has been growing lately. Still, when one considers all of the various video games out there, and how few manage to break through the electronic game wall into other realms, Halo still rises to the top, with books, a direct-to-video animated feature, comic books, and of course, action figures, about the only thing one is left to wonder about the popularity of Halo is why there hasn't been a theatrical movie yet.

Currently, McFarlane Toys' action figure offerings seem about equally divided between "Halo X" - representing the tenth anniversary product, and the ongoing "Halo Reach" line. (Hey, if Star Wars can divide itself between Clone Wars and movie-based product, why not?) And I recently found a fascinating two-pack of figures from the Halo Reach series. The set contains a figure of Noble Six, the primary playable character of the game, and a "hologram" version of him.

Let's consider a little background on the world of Halo Reach, and on the character of Noble Six.

Halo Reach takes place in the year 2552, shortly before the events of the original 2001 video game Halo: Combat Evolved, and during the events of the 2001 novel Halo: The Fall of Reach. Humans, under the auspices of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), have been waging a long war against a collective of alien races known as the Covenant. By the events of Reach, almost all of humanity's interstellar colonies have fallen. Reach is an Earthlike colony that serves as the UNSC's main military hub.

The game follows the actions of "Noble Team", a UNSC special operations unit composed of Spartans. Players assume the role of an unnamed new addition to the team, identified by the call sign Noble Six. Noble Team's other members include Carter-A259, Kat-B320, Jorge-052, Emile-A239, Jun-A266. All have been made as action figures in the Halo Reach line, by the way.

Noble Team, dispatched to discover why a communications relay has gone offline, discovers Covenant forces on Reach. Soon after, Noble team is deployed to "Sword Base", an installation belonging to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), to defend it from a Covenant vessel.

When a massive Covenant super-carrier joins the fight, Jorge and Six take part in a plan to destroy the carrier using a makeshift bomb. Using starfighters to infiltrate a smaller Covenant ship, Jorge and Six dock with the carrier and place the bomb.

After returning planet-side, Six travels to the city of New Alexandria and aids the local military in fighting the Covenant. Reuniting with Noble Team, Six assists with the evacuation of the city's civilians.

Recalled to Sword Base, Noble Team is shown an ancient Forerunner artifact which is believed to be key to winning the war. Six, Carter, and Emile are entrusted with transporting the artificial intelligence Cortana, and the information she carries, to the UNSC ship Pillar of Autumn.

En route to the Autumn's dry dock, Carter is critically wounded. He rams his ship into a Covenant mobile assault platform, allowing Six and Emile to reach the shipyard where the Autumn is located. Emile takes control of a coilgun emplacement to defend the Autumn while Six fights through Covenant forces to get Cortana to Captain Jacob Keyes. When Emile is slain by Elites, Six remains behind to take Emile's place at the gun, ensuring the Autumn's escape.

As the "fall of Reach" is inevitable, there's no real way to "win the game" per se. Ultimately, Noble Six will be overwhelmed by enemy forces -- which, to be perfectly honest, strikes me as rather depressing. However, the object of the game, really, is to see that the above objectives take place, and to do as much damage as possible.

Noble Six is no anonymous cipher, however. Just as with Master Chief in the other Halo games, the character of Noble Six has been outlined quite thoroughly.

Noble Six's real name -- such as it is -- is Spartan-B312. According to some online research courtesy of the Web Site known as "Halo Nation", Spartan B312 was taken out of Beta Company immediately after training, according to a communique from Kurt Ambrose to Franklin Mendez that was sent in May 2545, two months before Operation: Torpedo.

Over the course of his career, Spartan B312 gained a reputation as an efficient "lone-wolf" assassin, having single-handedly broken organizations and made entire militia groups disappear. B312 was also a test pilot in a top-secret UNSC project, the Sabre Program, which resulted in the development of the YSS-1000 "Sable"-class starfighter. B312 used these skills to great effect in a counter-insurgency operation on Mamore on May 10, 2552.

At one point, B312's superior allegedly used the Spartan as "his own private grim reaper" and as such, he was reluctant to have the Spartan assigned to Noble Team. On July 24, 2552, Spartan B312 was assigned to Noble Team as a replacement for its previous sixth member, Thom-293. Six, having recently arrived on Reach, joined the team just in time to participate in an operation to investigate a communications blackout at the Visegrad Relay, a mission which led to the first confrontation with Covenant forces on Reach.

During the final weeks before Reach's eventual end, Noble Six partook in multiple operations against Covenant forces on Reach along with the rest of Noble Team, including a counter-offensive to retake an ONI base, a night-time reconnaissance mission with Jun-A266, where the two Spartans formed a temporary alliance with some local militia, and a large-scale UNSC assault on a Covenant-occupied site and the neutralization of a Covenant tower.

On August 14, Noble Team helped UNSC forces repel Covenant invaders from a UNSC base which housed a Sabre launch facility. Six and Jorge were then launched into orbit in a Sabre to assist the Epsilon Eridani Defense Fleet in a space battle. The operation was successful, with the Covenant fleet eliminated, but at the cost of Jorge's life. However, a far larger Covenant fleet arrived moments later.

Six, after re-entering Reach from space, headed to New Alexandria, where the Spartan assisted the UNSC infantrymen in repelling the invading Covenant forces and evacuating the civilian population. The Spartan managed to establish radio communication with Noble Team and participated in the removal of Covenant communication jammers to allow the evacuation of ONI personnel. Six finally reunited with Noble Team.

Not long after, Noble Team was hailed by its commanding officer and was ordered to destroy Sword Base in a torch-and-burn operation. Once at Sword Base, however, Six was urged by a scientist on the premises, Dr. Halsey, to become the courier of a package and to deliver it safely to the UNSC ship "Pillar of Autumn".

Noble Six, along with Emile, successfully delivered the package to the captain of the Autumn. Six and Emile would then stall the Covenant forces from overwhelming the ship, at the cost of Emile's life. Autumn departed into space.

With the Covenant forces successfully disabling Reach's defenses, Noble Six was among the few surviving UNSC soldiers left fighting the Covenant forces on the ground. Six continued fighting, and held off an army of Covenant forces, including Wraith tanks and air support. Six was eventually heavily wounded by plasma fire and, after taking on multiple Covenant Elites in hand to hand combat, was finally overwhelmed and killed by no less than an Elite Field Marshall wielding an Energy Dagger.

And if I'd been playing the game, Noble Six wouldn't've gotten nearly that far because I probably would've accidentally shot myself in the foot. I appreciate these action figures, and have since well before McFarlane was the main licensee -- but I'm pretty awful at video games, and don't even own an Xbox unit on which to play any the Halo games.

As to his personality and background, Noble Six is described as a skilled assassin, with an obscure (and heavily classified) past, hyper-lethal skills, and a tendency to be a lone wolf. However, he does have a human side, and is seen during the campaign as frequently assisting and befriending soldiers, civilians, and other members of Noble Team in need, ultimately sacrificing himself in order to secure safe passage for the UNSC vessel. Were it not for Noble Six's final actions, Jacob Keyes, Cortana, and John-117 -- better known as Master Chief -- may never have escaped Reach, and therefore Spartan B312 is partially responsible for humanity's ultimate victory over both the Covenant and the Flood in later Halo games.

So, how's the figure? Very impressive. I've always liked the Halo armor designs. They're futuristic, and yet not entirely implausible, and certainly have a military feel to them. These guys aren't Clone Troopers or Stormtroopers with their relatively smooth, white armor. Spartan armor is a lot more detailed and rugged-looking than that, and the action figures certainly convey a great deal of detail.

Noble Six is arguably a little more -- I hate to use the word "bland", than some of the others. Shall we say a little more basic? There are numerous Spartan specialties in the game, and no shortage of armor colors out there, certainly in the action figure line. I've seen red, blue, pink, a very intense green, orange, and others. And then you have the other Noble Team members. To one degree or another, they all seem to have customized their Spartan armor.

So then there's Noble Six. And he's a pretty straightforward Spartan in armor that is predominantly such a dark gray that it's almost indistinguishable from the black armored undersuit that Spartans wear.

Now, Noble Six was obviously one of the first figures released in the line, on an individual card. Admittedly, one of the main reasons I bought this two-pack was for his "hologram" counterpart, but I have to say that after comparing the first Noble Six with the one from the two-pack -- there are some interesting differences.

The original Noble Six had a number of armor portions that were more silver gray than really dark gray. These included the lower arms and lower legs, especially. The new Noble Six has entirely dark gray armor. The knee pads are also different, and the new ones have a touch of red trim on them. The original Noble Six had an attachment of some sort on his helmet, just above the visor, some sort of device, I suppose, that the new Noble Six lacks. Let's hope it wasn't anything really important! And the new Noble Six has a large knife in a sheath attached to one side of his chestplate that the original Noble Six lacks.

Although I generally dislike painted on battle-damage on action figures, when it comes to Halo, it fits. Read the lineup of missions that Noble Six is involved with. It's a wonder this guy has any time to stop and eat, let alone wash his armor or give it a fresh coat of paint. The Spartans of Halo Reach are involved in a battle which they ultimately will not win, but they're going to give it their best shot, and they're faced with a literal full-scale planetary invasion. That's going to make for some harsh battlefields and very little down-time. Noble Six is a little scuffed up as such. Interestingly, he doesn't seem quite as scuffed as his original version. Maybe he did find some time to clean his suit.

Noble Six, like most of the Spartans in the Halo Reach series, stands about 5-1/2" in height. This is actually a slight scale adjustment from previous Halo lines. For whatever reason, when McFarlane Toys started their Halo Reach series, they altered the scale somewhat. Previous Spartans were 5-1/4". I know, it doesn't sound like much, but in this size range, the difference is visible. I'd probably say that some of the vehicles might be compatible back and forth, but not the figures themselves.

McFarlane Toys also significantly redesigned the structure of the figure, and here, there were aspects of it that needed it. The two single biggest complaints about earlier Halo figures were a very strange leg and hip design that made movement somewhat difficult and had a tendency for legs to fall off on occasion (generally speaking they could be snapped back on). The second complaint was extremely thin and fragile wrists -- and if a wrist's articulation was stuck, you were more likely to snap the hand off than free it.

Both of these matters have been very effectively dealt with in the new design. The leg design is much more straightforward, while still allowing for an excellent range of motion, and the wrists, while having a more complex design than the previous "ball and socket", are also sturdier in design than before.

One distinct advantage to making an action figure of an armored character is that a lot of the articulation can be worked into the armor design. Arms, elbows, knees, and such, can be well-articulated without cutting into the design of the actual armor, since as would be the case with the character, such "articulation points" would not be armored anyway. The Spartans seem to wear a somewhat armored black undersuit, over which the thicker, more protective armor is placed, but the basic principle still works.

Noble Six's armor is, for the most part, so dark that it's hard to tell where the armor really begins. However, the armor plating is very prominent in shape if not in color, and is very nicely rendered on the action figure. It possesses a very rigged design, lots of angles and panels, with plenty of sculpted detail. One should especially take note of the extensive detailing on the lower arms.

The helmet, while somewhat close to Master Chief's, is different enough to give Noble Six his own identity. It looks a fair bit like Master Chief's from the side, but from the front, it looks a little more dome-shaped. A gold visor, easily the brightest color on the figure, conceals the face.

Of similar interest are the little imprinted symbols and lines and such. Noble Six has the initials "UNSC" on either side of his helmet, a barely perceptible black emblem on his chestplate (more readily seen on other more brightly colored Spartan figures), And little yellow triangles and some other stripes across various portions of his armor. Of particular note are the black and yellow diagonal stripe-strips on his feet.

Also notable are the little areas of bright blue here and there on his armor. I don't know for certain, but I've long been of the opinion that these may represent some sort of small lights. I've seen them on every Halo Reach Spartan figure I've purchased.

Now, let's consider the "Hologram" figure. As one might expect, it's a completely transparent version of Noble Six. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for cool transparent figures. One of my favorite G.I. Joe figures is the red transparent Inferno B.A.T. Another is a transparent version of a G.I. Joe team member named Mirage, although no explanation for how he could be entirely transparent has ever been given. I have several transparent Gundam figures in my collection, and I also have a generous supply of the popular Microman figures from Japan, and a great many of them are either transparent, colored trasparent, or at least are partially transparent.

This is not the first transparent Halo figure. I also have one of Master Chief from the pre-Reach line. I even have one of Master Chief from the Joyride Studios line that preceded the McFarlane product. What I find interesting is the figure's designation. The previous transparent figures were known as "Active Camo" versions of their more solid counterparts. Apparently in the games, it was possible for the characters to at least briefly become virtually invisible. Rather convenient on the battlefield, I must say.

The transparent version of Noble Six is known as a "Hologram". Now, I have to say that, having not played the game, I'm not entirely sure what this means. Is this some sort of broadcast capability, like in Star Wars? Or can Noble Six create a holographic duplicate of himself to try to fool enemies on the battlefield?

Whatever the case, it's nevertheless an extremely cool figure. One interesting aspect of any transparent figure is that you can generally get some idea of how the figure is designed and constructed, because you can see its internal workings. This isn't quite as effective on the Halo figures, since they're so intricate in their surface detail that, even as transparent figures, it tends to obscure the internal detail. And this is pretty much the case with the Hologram of Noble Six.

The figure is structurally a precise duplicate of Noble Six, with one exception. The Hologram version doesn't have the knife sheath on the upper part of the chestplate. Not a big deal as far as I'm concerned.

I did notice something a little unusual about the Hologram, when I stood him next to my "Active Camo" version of Master Chief. The Hologram figure has a very, very slight blue caste to it. I don't know if this was intentional, or just a result of a different type of clear plastic used. I'm inclined to think it was intentional.

Interestingly, and somewhat amusingly, both figures come with matching accessories. Noble Six and his Hologram each have a rifle and a grenade -- one solid, one transparent -- and I really recommend putting the grenades in a Ziploc bag, especially the transparent one, unless you want to lose them in your carpet forever.

Articulation is excellent. Both Noble Six and the Hologram are fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, ankles, and the front of the feet. Most of the articulation points have multiple ranges of motion.

So what's my final word? This is a cool set. You may have bought the original Noble Six, but there's enough minor differences in the one in this boxed set to make it worth the purchase, and certainly the transparent Hologram figure is a cool addition. The package is useful, as well, as the back of the box provides a nice photographic inventory of quite a few of the current carded and boxed Halo Reach items.

Seriously, if you're a HALO fan, then you're really going to enjoy this particular two-pack.

The HALO REACH two-pack featuring NOBLE SIX and his HOLOGRAM definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!