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By Thomas Wheeler

McFarlane Toys' line of HALO 3 action figures have an astonishingly wide range of store exclusive Halo figures. More often than not, they release a particular color of a particular type of Spartan. Toys "R" Us, Wal-Mart, Suncoast, GameStop, Hot Topic, BigBadToyStore, EntertainmentEarth -- even some figures that aren't even available within the United States -- all with packaging proudly displaying the official logo of whatever store or Web Site or whatever they're exclusive to.

If nothing else, I would surmise that it's increased the level of gameplay for the HALO video games. Getting shot to pieces in a virtual alien world is probably looking pretty good to some Halo fans compared to trying to track down all of these exclusives in the real world.

For myself, I'm lousy at most video games. But I know a cool action figure line when I see one, and an interesting science-fiction type concept. And I also figured out early on that there was no way I could be any sort of completist with this line and retain whatever tenuous grip I have on my sanity as it is. So I didn't even try.

Which doesn't mean I'm not interested in the occasional exclusive Halo Spartan if it's interesting enough and not going to be too much of a strain to obtain it. And recently, one such turned up. It was a brand new color that I'd never heard of within the Halo universe, and it's an exclusive to Diamond Comic Distributors. This meant that the figure could logically be had through any comics store that deals with Diamond -- which is pretty much almost all of them.

And recently, one of those "related collectibles" was this very interesting HALO 3 figure. He's a SCOUT SPARTAN, and his official color is -- CRIMSON! Okay, that's new!

So, some of you may be asking, what's a Scout Spartan? Well, in the first couple of HALO video games, there was pretty much one type of Spartan. This was Master Chief, and his assorted colorful counterparts. There were Red Spartans, Blue Spartans, Pink Spartans, White Spartans, Brown Spartans, Orange Spartans, Purple Spartans -- pretty much the entire color spectrum -- but they all looked alike otherwise.

With HALO 3, we not only got the wide range of colors, but we now had a wide range of Spartan typed -- EOD Spartans, CQB Spartans, ODST Spartans, Hayabusa Spartans, and (among yet more), Scout Spartans.

There's actually a Web Site out there called "HaloPedia", which is like a WikiPedia version based on all things HALO. And they have a fairly comprehensive entry on the Scout Spartan armor. It reads as follows:

The Mark VI MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor/S variant, more commonly known as Scout Armor, is a type of United Nations Space Command body armor. It is first seen in Halo 3.

Scout armor is a variant of the standard Mark VI MJOLNIR powered battle armor. The armor uses advanced materials to give it stealth properties.

The SCOUT and RECON projects were run as parallel projects intended to develop a single variant of the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor with stealth capabilities and no impact on endurance; however, the SCOUT variant relies heavily on advanced materials. It was tested in ONI's Ordnance Testing Facility B5D at Swanbourne, Perth, in Australia.

Don't get me started on the RECON armor -- talk about exclusives...

Most of the Spartan variants look significantly alike, using the same basic body mold, with three notable exceptions depending on type -- Helmet, Chestplate, and Shoulder Armor. Fortunately, this is enough, especially between the helmet and chestplate, to make for some very interesting Spartan variations. Throw in all of the various color permutations, and you can build a pretty significant Spartan army where everyone is still an individual to one degree or another.

I tend to describe the overall armor design, regardless of type, as "futuristic, yet plausible." It's nothing like I'd expect to see on a battlefield today. Is it something that could, in theory, be developed and utilized once technology permits? Perhaps not to the considerable degree of all the details of the Spartan program, but as a general protective suit of armor with some high-tech advantages, I wouldn't discount the possibility.

And I don't find it surprising or discouraging, either from a toy or game standpoint that most of the Spartan variants look mostly alike. Within the fictional world of Halo, once you've got a really effective armor design, why mess with it except as required by certain specialties, and then only to the degree necessary? And since that would logically carry over to the toys, I'm sure McFarlane Toys appreciated being able to create one basic suit of Spartan armor, on which only a few details had to be changed to create the different Spartan types.

The Scout Helmet looks quite a bit like Master Chief's/Mark VI Spartan helmet, in that it has a somewhat forward-swept look to it, and a rather prominent "brow" over the visor. But the Scout is even more pronounced in these regards than the standard Spartan, and the visor is narrower, and surrounded by an area of black within the helmet. Halopedia describes the helmet thusly: It features a cap-like protrusion, along its rim and a beak-like protrusion under the chin. It is usually best to use this armor for sniping because its thin, slit-shaped visor keeps it less visible than other helmets. Its general shape could be compared to a dirt bike helmet.

That's a fair enough assessment. It does have both of these protrusions, the lower one being something Master Chief's more standard Spartan armor lacks. I'm not sure how closely I'd compare it to a dirt-bike helmet, but overall, it's an impressive design in my opinion.

The shoulder pieces aren't terribly different from the standard Spartan. Halopedia says, "Unlike other shoulder pads, the Scout shoulders are attached slightly above the elbow instead of on the shoulder. Because they attach not directly to the shoulder, but slightly above the elbow, they would provide much greater ease of movement of the arms, similar to the CQB shoulders."

They do seem a little lower than average, but here, McFarlane was perhaps slightly limited in what they could do, since these shoulder pieces still had to fit into the same access pegs on the arms as any other shoulder piece.

The chestplate is drastically different from the standard Spartan, and here Halopedia describes it: The chest armor consists of an H-shaped plate over the upper torso and a pair of articulated plates attached to its bottom. It's theorized that the H-Shaped chest plate is merely a storage device to aid in weight distribution and allow for easier movement in certain missions involving stealth and reconnaissance.

This is, after all, a SCOUT soldier. He'd need to be able to do that. It really is an interesting look, though, and quite different from most of the other Spartans.

I learned something else on Halopedia through this. Apparently you gain access to various types of armor within the game by managing certain "Achievements". While I do not know specifically what this means within the game, these various "Achievements" all have different names. And the ones that allow you to access the components of the Scout armor are -- well -- interesting.

To access the Scout Helmet, you must accomplish the "Used Car Salesman Achievement." To access the Scout Shoulder Pieces, you must accomplish the "Mongoose Mowdown Achievement." To access the Chest Armor, you must accomplish the "Too Close to the Sun Achievement".

Each of these had a separate link on Halopedia, and I leave it to you to check them out for yourself if you so choose. This is an action figure review. Besides, I'm not entirely sure I even want to know what some of these mean.

On the whole, the figure is extremely impressive. The detail level is astounding, both in regard to the armor, and the black "undersuit" the figure wears, itself looking decidedly rugged and even somewhat armored in some places.

Articulation is excellent. This might come as a surprise to some fans, who are more used to buying borderline statues from McFarlane, and indeed, there's a line of Halo figures that are more statue-like in their design. This isn't one of them. The figure boasts 26 moving parts on his package, and given the range of motion on some of them, that might be a conservative estimate. The Crimson Scout Spartan moves at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows (including a swivel at the elbows), wrists, mid, torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees (including a swivel), ankles, and the fronts of the boots.

The paint detailing is nicely done. This is something I've seen occasionally messed up a little on other Spartans, especially around the helmet. But either McFarlane is paying closer attention, or I got lucky, because the black detailing and the gold visor are perfect. Very nicely done.

Along with the Crimson color and black undersuit, there are some tiny little light blue details on the armor pieces. I am not sure of their purpose, but I would wonder if they glow like little lights in the video game. These are extremely small detail areas on the upper legs, boots, and chestplate. Very well done, too. There is a silver stripe on the upper right arm and upper right leg. All Spartans have this, in one color or another, and there is a Roman numeral "VI" for "Mark VI" in the middle of the stripe. It's a little hard to see this on the arm, since it's covered by the unusual shoulder piece, but I am certain that it is there.

Accessorywise, the Crimson Scout Spartan comes with a rifle of a type that I have seen with quite a few other Spartans in this line, but hey, it's a good design. Nothing wrong with it at all. He also comes with a tiny little grenade that, as I have recommended before, I suggest immediately putting into a Ziploc bag along with all the other Halo Spartan grenades you may have, or I can pretty well guarantee it's going to vanish.

Now, with a name, or more precisely, a color officially designated "Crimson", there is going to be one inevitable, unavoidable comparison, because there's one particular group within the action figure world that has had a near monopoly on the term "Crimson" for close to 25 years, and that's the Crimson Guard from the world of G.I. Joe.

The Crimson Guard, brought forth in 1985 by the "evil terrorist organization" known as Cobra, were the best of the best, the top elite, and fought battles for Cobra in political offices and corporate boardrooms as much as they did on the battlefield. They were an immediate fan hit wherever they appeared, and continue to be a major part of Cobra to this day.

Now, it's not really fair to draw a comparison based on, shall we say, uniform design. The closest the Crimson Guard ever had to an armored warrior were the Crimson Guard Immortals, introduced in 1991, with significant chest-plating and a more battle-ready look to them than their fancier predecessors from 1985. And even the Crimson Guard Immortals weren't as heavily armored as a Scout Spartan. If Cobra got their hands on Spartan armor, I think the G.I. Joe team would be in serious trouble.

Nor is it really fare to compare figures. The Halo Spartans are about 5-1/4" in height. While an unusual height, it certainly makes them out of scale with the 3-3/4" - 4" G.I. Joe line.

What we can compare is the crimson COLOR, and here we have an interesting development. The Crimson Scout Spartan is noticeably darker, and a bit more towards purple, than the uniform color found on most Cobra Crimson Guards.

The Random House Dictionary describes "crimson", first definition, as "A deep purplish-red". That would seem to give the advantage to the Scout Spartan, really. No one's going to look at a Crimson Guard and think "purple". There's a definite purple caste to the Scout Spartan.

So, what's my final word here? McFarlane Toys has done a really spectacular job with these Halo figures, especially the Spartans. They look great, they're well designed, well detailed, and well-articulated. And the Crimson Scout Spartan is certainly no exception. While I don't know what the status of the figure will be when you read this article, it might still be within the realm of possibility that your local comic shop can order it, as it is an exclusive to Diamond Comic Distributors, and yes, their logo is right on the front of the package.

And certainly, the Crimson color makes him nicely unique if you happen to have a large population of Spartans around. There have been several Spartans in red, blue, brown, tan, white, and other colors. This is the one and only Crimson Spartan to date, so he's a distinctive addition to any HALO 3 action figure collection.

With all of that in mind, the HALO 3 DIAMOND COMICS EXCLUSIVE CRIMSON SCOUT SPARTAN definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!