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By Thomas Wheeler

I may be rather pathetic when it comes to actually playing video games, but I am certainly aware of their popularity, and am frequently amazed by the fact that, with all the hundreds of different titles available, that any of the manage to rise to the top and garner a considerable prominence that frequently takes them well beyond the level of video games.

Certainly one of these concepts is HALO. Regarded as a relative newcomer compared to long-established concepts such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or even Sonic the Hedgehog, the futuristic embattled world of Halo has taken its place among these iconic concepts like few other video games have. The central character, Master Chief, is as readily recognized as any highly popular video game character could hope to be, and Halo has certainly branched out beyond its video game roots into novels, comic books -- and of course, action figures.

I came across a three-pack of HALO figures, that in some small way represent a bit of an irony. There has yet to be a HALO movie -- and I just don't get this. Halo can list its video presence beyond the games to a single entry -- a compilation of animated stories released on a DVD a few years ago called HALO LEGENDS. This particular three-pack represents a group of armored Spartan soldiers, including Master Chief, that were part of a story called "The Package".

Before we get into the set, let me just say that I simply do not understand why there hasn't been a HALO movie. Properly produced, such a film would have "major summer blockbuster" written all over it, with certainly the potential for plenty of sequels. And yet Halo has been around for over ten years, and has yet to turn up at the movie theaters. This is a situation I would yet hope to see remedied.

Now then -- this HALO LEGENDS set features distinctive figures of armored Spartan warriors, including John-117, best known to us as Master Chief, Frederic-104, and a female named Kelly-087.

Let's consider the Halo Legends DVD, as well as "The Package" story on it, and then have a look at the individual characters and their figures.

Halo Legends is a collection of seven short anime films set in the Halo science-fiction universe. Financed by Halo franchise overseer 343 Industries, the stories were created by six Japanese production houses: Bones, Casio Entertainment, Production I.G., Studio 4°C, and Toei Animation. Shinji Aramaki, creator and director of Appleseed and Appleseed Ex Machina, serves as the project's creative director. Warner Bros. released Legends on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on February 16, 2010.

The idea for an anime compilation existed for years before there was momentum for the project. 343 creative director Frank O'Connor produced story outlines or finished scripts that the production houses animated in a variety of styles.

To oversee development of the entire Halo franchise, Microsoft created an internal division, 343 Industries, to manage the Halo brand. Frank O'Connor, 343's creative director, said that such a move was vital: "If you look at how George Lucas held on to Star Wars, not just to make money from action figures but to control the direction the universe went in, you can see why we think it's pretty vital."

Halo Legends had origins in the 2006 Marvel Comics tie-in, The Halo Graphic Novel; O'Connor said that the idea of an anime compilation existed for years before there was momentum for the project. Wanting to tell smaller stories in a different format than video games and novels and in different art styles, O'Connor said that anime was a natural fit. An additional consideration was that 343 Industries felt that the Japanese style of narrative fit the stories well. Most of the animation studios Microsoft approached were available for the project. Most studios were "afraid" of creating their own stories, even if they were familiar with the series, so O'Connor sent them possible story treatments. Microsoft was deeply involved in making sure story details were correct and writing the scripts for the stories—O'Connor estimated that 50% of the dialogue in the final products were verbatim from the original scripts. While all the stories save one are considered canon, O'Connor noted that some discrepancies were the cause of artistic interpretation.

The animation studios were given wide latitude in their presentation. "We realized very early on [that Halo] could take interpretation," said O'Connor, saying that the look-and-feel of the universe persisted even through differing artistic styles.

As for the specific story of "The Package": On board a cloaked human ship, a group of Spartans (John-117/Master Chief, Frederic-104, Kelly-087, Arthur-079 and Solomon-069) are briefed by an intelligence officer about their mission. A Covenant fleet is momentarily trapped in the system, and is carrying an important "package" the Spartans must retrieve. The ship decloaks and deploys the Spartans in small ships called Booster Frames. Solomon detects the package on one of the ships, but discovers too late that it is a ruse; Solomon is killed when the ship is destroyed. Master Chief deduces that their target is actually in the Covenant flagship. Arthur is killed trying to cover Kelly during the battle, and the rest of the Spartans board the Covenant ship. Making their way through thick Covenant defenses, Master Chief manages to recover the package—human scientist Catherine Halsey in cryonic hibernation—and the two escape via a Covenant escape pod. The remaining Spartans are recovered by the stealth ship and leave the system.

So what we have here with the action figure set is the surviving Spartans -- sorry about that, Artie and Sol.

So, how are the figures? Really outstanding. I'm not the biggest fan of McFarlane Toys in the world, but they've always done a really excellent job with their Halo product line, and these are a trio of exceptionally impressive figures. Let's consider them individually...

MASTER CHIEF (JOHN-117) - Certainly the best known of the three, as he is the central, and playable, character of most of the Halo video games. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 was born in about 2511, John lived with his mother and father in Elysium city, on the colony world of Eridanus II. He attended the Elysium City Primary Education Facility Number 119. As a child, John had brown hair, freckles, and a small gap between his front teeth. In a dream during cryo-sleep aboard the UNSC Pillar of Autumn, John recalled that his mother was "kind and smelled of soap", and that she had "large eyes, a straight nose and full lips."

At the age of six, he was identified by Dr. Catherine Halsey as one of 150 preliminary candidates for the SPARTAN-II Program. John was an ideal physical and mental candidate, standing a head taller than the majority of his schoolmates, having greater physical proportions, possessing greater strength, exhibiting superior reflexes, and having an aggressive drive for success. When Dr. Halsey and Lieutenant Jacob Keyes visited Eridanus II in 2517 to study him, they were impressed with his intellect and luck. In a final test of his viability as a candidate, he was asked to determine which side an old coin would land on. He watched the coin as it flew in the air and caught it before it could land, correctly stating which side was face-up. John was the first candidate Dr. Halsey and Lieutenant Keyes studied. Later that same year, John and 74 other six-year-old children were "conscripted": they were covertly kidnapped from their homes and replaced with flash clones, all of which would later die of natural causes to cover up the kidnappings. John, along with the other candidates, was taken to the planet of Reach. Dr. Halsey informed them of the SPARTAN-II Program and how they would be "the protectors of Earth and all her colonies." The next morning John discovered his service tag, stitched into his training uniform, and his new name: John-117.

John began a new life, training with other Spartans under Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez. For eight years he learned history, military strategy, weapons, and was given physical fitness training. Early on, he bonded with Kelly and Sam, who would become two of the few close friends he would ever have.

During his training, John quickly proved himself to be one of the program's top candidates. Both Dr. Halsey and Chief Mendez identified him as one of four emerging leaders within the Spartan-II group, along with Kurt-051, Jerome-092, and Frederic-104. Dr. Halsey expressed her belief most strongly in John as having the skills and natural ability to lead the entire Spartan-II group. However, Mendez disagreed, instead believing Kurt would fulfill that role.

When the Spartans were eight years old, they were sent on a training mission in which they were dropped over a forest located deep in one of Reach's snow-filled mountain ranges and expected to get safely to their extraction Pelican dropship. The children also had instructions to leave the last child arriving behind, or the punishment would be painful; John-117 knew, however, that he could not do that. After telling the Spartans where to meet, the Spartans looked to him as their leader, a role he was initially surprised to be given, but eventually accepted. When the group came upon the Pelican, it was guarded by armed men. Those men were actually UNSC Marines, but were not in uniform, thus leading the Spartans to mistake for a hostile threat. John showed early acumen in critical thinking and tactics, not wishing to take for granted that guards would be friendly toward them. He came up with a plan to take the men down, capture the dropship, and ensure the safe extraction of every team member, as he made sure he was the last person aboard. To do this he ended up hijacking the dropship with the help of Déjà, and beat down the men with stones, causing severe injuries among the Marines. Chief Mendez was not visibly pleased, as John had attacked his Marines and no one had been left behind. But both Mendez and Halsey recognized John's initiative, and promoted him to squad leader. After this, despite other Spartans rising in rank and at least a couple rising to lead their own teams, he remained the de facto leader of the Spartans as a whole.

John's leadership skills were correctly observed, as the result from their mission clearly solidified his role as the overall leader of the Spartan-IIs. He also became the established leader of the Spartan-II's Blue Team.

At the age of fourteen, John underwent the dangerous SPARTAN-II augmentation procedures. These procedures caused 30 of the Spartan trainees to die, and 12 to become physically disabled. John was one of 33 Spartans who made it through the process unscathed, while the rest who could still operate were moved to positions in the Office of Naval Intelligence. At only fourteen years old, it is said that John had a body of an eighteen-year old Olympic athlete; the augmentation process gave the Spartans faster reflexes, greater strength, enhanced eyesight, and made their bones nearly unbreakable. Following their augmentation procedures, John and the other Spartans were transferred to the Atlas in order to recover in a microgravity environment. During his first visit to the Atlas' gym, John was confronted by four ODSTs, whose sergeant then ordered the five of them into the boxing ring. In the ensuing fight, John killed two of the ODSTs, and left the others severely injured, an incident which quickly blossomed into major resentment for the whole SPARTAN program throughout the Marine Corps. According to Major Antonio Silva, this incident was orchestrated by the "people who invented the Chief" in order to test the Spartans' augmentations.

His adventures since then have been largely chronicled in the video games. So, how's the figure? Very cool. There have been so many Master Chief figures, that one might surmise it would be difficult to come up with something reasonably innovative within the basic design specs of the character. However, as this particular Master Chief figure is based on his animated incarnation in this particular story, we manage to get some interesting features.

As one would expect, of course, Master Chief is outfitted in his sophisticated, futuristic Spartan armor, which is mostly olive green in color. His helmet is a good match for the iconic look of the character, a slightly angular helmet with a cap-like brim jutting out over the gold, goggle-like visor.

The battle armor is clearly designed to be rigid, and is placed over a black, semi-armored "undersuit" that is visible mostly where a person would move, such as the shoulders, legs, knees, elbows, and so forth. The overall design of the armor, while I don't think it can be attributed to one specific version of the Spartan armor from the video games, nevertheless more than sufficiently looks like the Spartan armor, and certainly has all of the basic components.

A few things stand out. For one thing, there isn't any significant battle damage or battle-paint-wipes on the figure. In short, he's not been really dirtied up, which is fine with me. I can understand how this is something that would logically happen over the course of battle, but personally, I tend to prefer my figures clean. This may be one of the cleanest Master Chief figures I've seen.

There are also some very distinctive markings on this Master Chief figure, that I haven't really seen on previous versions. These are obviously a reflection of the animation style and design, as well. He has a large white "117" on one side of his chestplate, bold white double-stripes on his upper arms and upper legs, and some additional white trim on his shoulder armor. While certainly unusual, it's not at all detracting from the look of the figure. If anything, I think it's a nice touch.

There's other impressive painted detail, as well. Study the figure and see the narrow red lines, and the little red triangles and dashes. What purpose do all of these serve? Who cares? They look cool and they've certainly been well applied. Overall, the paint work on this figure is spectacular. I've encountered a few Halo figures over time that have had some problems with sloppy paint. That's definitely not the case here.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Master Chief is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, mid-torso, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, ankles, and feet. There's so much articulation in the feet that it's a little hard to fully describe. And one cool thing about armored figures like this -- most of the articulation points can be neatly concealed in the design of the figure, so they're not too obvious.

Now let's consider the other male figure in the set, FREDERIC-104. Here's his personal history, thanks to the Halo Nation Web Site: Lieutenant, Junior Grade Frederic-104 is a Spartan-II Commando and is one of the few surviving SPARTAN-IIs. Historically, Frederic-104 has held the highest rank among any of the active SPARTAN-IIs except for Kurt-051. He has been known to become greatly affected by his injured teammates. He has also had a close working relationship with John-117. During the final three months of the Human-Covenant-Flood war, Fred was active in the Forerunner shield world installation (Now, UNSC Research Station Trevelyan) at the core of the former planet Onyx . He was retrieved by Kilo Five in February 2553, along with fellow Spartans Kelly-087 and Linda-058 and the SPARTAN-III Petty Officers Tom, Lucy and Team Saber. Frederic made an appearance in Microsoft and 343 Industries' Forward Unto Dawn web-series in the uncovered ONI comms showing insurrectionists and UNSC fighting together in "Part III" and in the closing scenes of "Part V" where he, Kelly-087, and John-117 join the three survivors of a Covenant attack leaving the planet.

Fred has displayed many similarities, both physical and mental, with John-117. He is an exceptional leader and a quick thinker. John remarked, however, that Fred sometimes takes the responsibility of his command too seriously, empathizing too deeply with any wounded member of his team. He, like many other Spartans, was an introvert and didn't like to be called by his full name. He never really began to stand out among the Spartans until the death of Samuel-034.

As of 2552, he had fought in more than 120 military campaigns. He was the Spartans-II's second best sniper and best spotter, just below Linda-058's skills. In fact, John once said that Fred came in 2nd place in all of the contests the Spartans had as children, John thought he could have come out on top but didn't like the attention. He was well known for his abilities with the combat knife. Fred had black hair which was shot with streaks of silver after his augmentation, and he was not too short or tall (A little shorter than John-117), and neither too muscular, nor too slim. In fact it was commented by John-117 that "if any Spartan had to blend into a crowd it would be Fred" As with all Spartans he is unnaturally pale because he rarely if ever is exposed to sunlight.

He was taken from his home in 2517 at age six after he was observed by Dr. Catherine Halsey and marked as a possible exceptional soldier. He was trained with the other Spartans at Reach by Déjà and Chief Petty Officer Mendez but was never mentioned until the Spartans' mission to the Military Wilderness Training Preserve.

During his training, Frederic quickly proved himself to be considered one of the program's top candidates. Both Dr. Halsey and Chief Mendez identified him as one of four emerging leaders within the Spartan-II group, along with Kurt-051, Jerome-092, and John-117.

Fred was part of the Spartans' first mission to Eridanus Secundus to abduct Colonel Robert Watts in 2525. In 2526 Fred, John, Kelly-087, and the rest of Blue Team were sent into the planet of Circinius IV after the initial Covenant attack on Corbulo Academy of Military Science which sparked the Battle of Circinius IV, searching for any survivors. Kelly and Fred facilitated John's extraction with the cadets via a commandeered Pelican dropship. Fred and Kelly are the only two Spartans who have revealed their faces to the surviving cadets.

It is probable that he was present at Jericho VII in 2535, but he was never mentioned by name during the engagement. He was also a part of the Battle of Sigma Octanus IV in 2552, designated Blue-Three and part of John's team that destroyed the Covenant forces at Côte d'Azur.

In 2544, Fred also participated in an ONI-led operation which required a squad of Spartans (consisting of Solomon-069, Arthur-079, Kelly-087, John-117 and himself) to infiltrate Covenant-controlled space via Booster Frames and recover a stolen package from a Covenant fleet. The Covenant fleet was temporarily unable to enable their slipspace drive due to a stellar magnetic field, providing the Spartans some time to retrieve the package before the Covenant fleet departs. During the course of the operation, Arthur-079 and Solomon-069 were killed by the Covenant. The surviving Spartans then infiltrated the Covenant flagship and got separated as they made their way to the package which was revealed to be Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey. The operation was successful with the Spartans escorting the "package" back to the ONI Stealth Ship that deployed them.

Nice of them to include the "Package" mission in the backstory. So, how's the figure? Really outstanding. Significantly, he clearly has much of the same characteristics as Master Chief, which is appropriate, but he has no shortage of distinctiveness of his own.

His helmet is a slightly different design. It still has the cap-like brim, the gold visor, and most of the features are similar. However, Fred-104's helmet is more angular than Master Chief's, with a few more external details sculpted into it. It doesn't QUITE look like Master Chief, and I don't think he could readily pass for him, either, although one clearly gets the immediate impression of a working associate.

Additionally, Fred-104's armor is an entirely different color. Master Chief's is its traditional olive green, although I should mention that it's been given a bit of a metallic finish. Fred-104's armor is a metallic steel blue. It's really a very impressive color for Spartan armor, and one that I don't recall seeing used much before. I've see a deeper, more straightforward blue before, but not really this metallic steel blue.

The white markings are also different. Although Fred-104 has a "104" on one side of his chestplate, right where Master Chief has a "117", he has a white "V" on the front top of his helmet, and two diagonal white lines on his chestplate. Additionally, some interesting zig-zag detail on the front of the chestplate, which both he and Master Chief share and which I've never really seen the likes of before, is painted silver.

Fred-104's shoulder armor is slightly different from John-117's. Although similar in appearance, there's an extra little nubbin at the top, and some additional detail at the base. Beyond this, the two figures have, not surprisingly, identical body molds.

As with John-117, Fred-104 has plenty of little red triangles and dashes and similar minuscule detail painted on his armor, and just the slightest hint of weathering. Of course, he has the same highly impressive level of articulation that Master Chief has. These are really superb figures.

Finally, let's consider the female member of this set: Petty Officer Second Class KELLY-087 is one of the few remaining SPARTAN-II supersoldiers. She is well-known due to close friendships with Joshua-029, Samuel-034, Linda-058, Frederic-104, and John-117. She was temporarily missing, but was later reunited with the remaining SPARTAN-IIs (excluding John-117) on Onyx. She, along with the other surviving SPARTAN-IIs and several SPARTAN-IIIs, were trapped in a Micro Dyson Sphere, but were able to exit the sphere and link up with UNSC ONI ships. She is one of John's closest friends, and is renowned for her incredible speed, even without her MJOLNIR armor.

Kelly is notoriously fast, even by Spartan standards, easily making her the fastest human who ever lived. She is the fastest of all the other Spartans, capable of running at bursts of up to nearly 39 MPH, has quicker reflexes than all other Spartans and is even capable of accomplishing normal tasks quickly and more precisely than her fellow Spartans. Before a mission, she had to slow herself down considerably to spar with another Spartan. She has demonstrated an incredible tolerance for pain, as she has been injured quite gravely on several occasions and managed to recover fully each time.

When she was younger, Kelly had her hair dyed blue and was taller than John. He eventually outgrew her and her hair color returned to its natural brown color. Kelly has a cynical sense of humor and often cracks jokes over her and her team's situation and mission. Her speed has led her to being termed the team's "rabbit", acting as quick bait to draw enemies into traps laid by the other Spartans.

Kelly-087 was conscripted into the SPARTAN-II program at age six in 2517 when she was singled out as a physically and intellectually superior child by Dr. Catherine Halsey. During her abduction she eluded Retrieval team Gamma for six hours but eventually came forward when she thought the abduction was a game for her birthday. She was then sent to Reach to begin her training.

On her first day of Spartan training, Kelly was teamed up with John-117 and Sam-034 during a drill at Military Reservation 01478-B. Their team did poorly, because of the lack of teamwork, and finished in last place. The next day Kelly showed her true speed by running for a pulley lift, which she reached twice as quickly as John and Sam. They did not come first, but they did come in third. This was just the first of many times that her speed would be a key factor in strategies. The three of them became close friends that day.

Kelly participated in numerous missions with the Spartans from 2517 to 2525, including those in Emerald Cove, Chiron Test Station, Military Wilderness Training Preserve and the Highland Mountains.

After her Spartan augmentation procedures at the ONI Medical Facility station, Kelly was close to death. She was the slowest to recover from the operations, and many of her fellow Spartans were afraid that she would not make it. She did, and her already amazing speed was even further augmented. John-117 noted that she was "... almost untouchable, no one could touch her if she didn't want them to."

Kelly participated in the Spartans' first mission to Eridanus II. She, along with John, Fred, Sam and Linda, boarded the Laden and infiltrated Eridanus Secundus. They then captured Colonel Robert Watts, leader of the Eridanus Rebels. In the same year, some time later, she witnessed the Covenant's might and lost her friend Sam during the Battle of Chi Ceti.

In 2526 Kelly, John and the rest of Blue Team were sent into the planet of Circinius IV after the initial Covenant attack on Corbulo Academy of Military Science which sparked the Battle of Circinius IV, searching for any survivors. Kelly and Frederic-104 facilitated John's extraction with the cadets via a commandeered Pelican dropship. Kelly and Fred are the only ones to reveal their actual faces to the surviving cadets. When one of them asks how old they, are Kelly answers "That's classified".

In 2535, Kelly was present at Jericho VII. She was designated as Blue-Two and was on John's team during a mission to kill 1,000 Unggoy to avenge the 105th Drop Jet Platoon. However, after three days of hard fighting, they were forced to retreat. They later watched the planet get glassed by the Covenant.

Later, in 2544, Kelly also participated in an ONI-led operation which required a squad of Spartans (consisting of Solomon-069, Arthur-079, Fred-104, John-117 and herself) to infiltrate Covenant-controlled space via Booster Frames and recover a stolen package from a Covenant fleet. The Covenant fleet was temporarily unable to enable their slipspace drive due to a stellar magnetic field, providing the Spartans some time to retrieve the package before the Covenant fleet departed. The Spartans then infiltrated the Covenant flagship and made their way to the package which was revealed to be Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey. The operation was successful with the Spartans escorting the "package" back to the ONI Stealth Ship.

And once again we have a reference to the animated adventure. It's worth mentioning that based on their profiles on Halo Nation, both Fred and Kelly went on to substantial military careers after the "Package" adventure.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, and since this is a female Spartan, something we haven't seen all that often, very distinctive.

Needless to say, the figure doesn't share any parts with her two teammates. The helmet is entirely different, and not only lacks the cap-like brim of the other two, but scarcely seems to have an armored top at all. The gold visor is a huge part of the helmet, encompassing not only the entire face, but the top of the head as well.

The armor is a slightly off-white in color, which makes the black undersuit stand out that much more. Although structurally similar to the Spartan armor of the males, it's obviously been modified to accommodate Kelly's female form. The number "087" has been lettered on one side of the chestplate in black, and she has yellow striped trim on the shoulders and tops of the legs.

The shoulder armor is closest in appearance to that of the other two, especially Master Chief's. Somewhat amusingly, the boots end in high heels. This strikes me as not the most practical thing in the world for battle armor, and if Kelly is as tall as reported, why would she need this? Interestingly, the figure is slightly shorter than her companions. Kelly comes in at just shy of 5-1/4", while John and Fred are closer to 5-1/2".

As with the other two, Kelly's armor is trimmed with narrow red lines, and small triangles and other details. Weathering of any sort has been kept to a distinct minimum, which given the color of the armor, especially in this instance, is a good thing.

Kelly has the same level of articulation as her two male teammates, and her overall paintwork as exceptionally neatly done.

There's a nice supply of hardware accompanying these figures. They all comes with distinctive rifles, and the set also includes several knives, and even some alien weaponry!

On the whole, I have to say that these are some of the most intricately, and neatly, sculpted and detailed Halo figures I think I've yet come across, and given that I've generally been very impressed with McFarlane Toys' Halo offerings, that's quite an achievement.

So, what's my final word? This is a highly impressive set. Granted, it's sort of a "stand-alone" set, as its not specifically tied in to any of the existing action figure products that are specifically tied in to any of the video games. Most of the Halo product in the stores right now is dedicated towards Halo 4. But in some ways, I think that makes this set that much cooler. It's a set you can buy in and of itself, and enjoy it on its own. It's packaged interestingly, too, in a rather tall box with the figures packaged semi-vertically.

Really, if you're looking for a good set of straightforward Halo figures, that represent individual Spartan warriors, including the central character of Master Chief, then you really can't go wrong with this set. It's truly outstanding, and I believe that any Halo fan will be pleased with it.

The HALO action figure set representing HALO LEGENDS: THE PACKAGE, featuring MASTER CHIEF JOHN-117, FREDERIC-104, and KELLY-087, most definitely has my highest recommendation!