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By Thomas Wheeler

Certainly one of the most popular video game series in recent memory is HALO. The concept has had multiple games, the most recent being HALO: REACH, several action figure lines, a MegaBloks line of toys, an animated DVD, a series of comic books, a series of paperback novels, and more.

The most recent game, Halo: Reach, is in fact a prequel game. As to the basic concept behind the game, and its storyline (with a little help from some online research), Halo: Reach takes place in a futuristic science fiction setting during 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 itself is an Earthlike colony that serves as the UNSC's main military hub. The colony is home to over 700 million civilians in addition to the military presence.

The game follows the actions of "Noble Team", a UNSC special operations unit composed of elite super-soldiers known as Spartans. Players assume the role of an unnamed new addition to the team, identified by the call sign Noble Six. Noble Team's leader is Carter-A259, a no-nonsense soldier. His second-in-command, Kat-B320, has a bionic arm; together, Carter and Kat are the only two remaining original members of Noble Team. The other members include heavy weapons specialist Jorge-052, assault specialist Emile-A239, and marksman Jun-A266.

Noble Team, dispatched to discover why a communications relay has gone offline, discovers Covenant forces on Reach Rather. 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. The team meets the scientist Catherine Halsey, mastermind behind the Spartan program and their MJOLNIR powered armor. Halsey informs Noble Team that the Covenant at the relay were searching for important information.

Jun and Six are dispatched on a covert mission to assess the Covenant's strength and discover an invasion force. Noble Team assaults a Covenant ground base and removes fortified Covenant defenses. 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. Its timer malfunctions, so Jorge stays behind and sacrifices himself to destroy the carrier. More Covenant ships arrive at Reach.

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; Kat is killed by a sniper. Recalled to Sword Base, Halsey shows Noble Team an ancient Forerunner artifact she believes is 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. Jun escorts Halsey to another base.

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 strikes me as rather depressing, frankly. However, the object of the game, really, is to see that the above objectives take place, and to do as much damage as possible.

McFarlane Toys has been the main producer of Halo action figures for several years now. And while I haven't always been the biggest fan of McFarlane Toys' products, I have to say that they have done a truly superb job with Halo.

Although McFarlane Toys maintained a certain consistency with action figures from several Halo games, including Halo 3 and Halo: ODST, when it came time for Halo: Reach, McFarlane Toys decided to give the line a significant reboot. The figures were almost entirely redesigned, with honestly a more effective -- and sturdier -- design, and are a slightly different size. They're not entirely compatible with their predecessors as such. On the other hand, they're not as far afield as some overhauls I've seen from time to time.

McFarlane Toys is producing a substantial series of figures for Halo: Reach. Along with the core cast of Noble Team, McFarlane Toys has produced assorted generic UNSC troops, a wide variety of alien enemies, and of course, the most popular action figures of any Halo line over the years -- various armored Spartans. These are invariably the first ones off the shelves and into the hands of collectors.

Which brings us to the Female Air Assault Spartan. The one in the pink armor. Technically, she's not the first female Spartan in this line. That distinction goes to an individual character, part of the Noble Team, by the name of Kat, who wears light blue armor and has a cybernetic arm. But this particular Spartan is one of those more generic troop-building Spartans that are filling out the line.

Unfortunately, I can't really tell you all that much about what, specifically, an Air Assault Spartan does. The Wiki-esque Web Site "Halo Nation", formerly known as HaloPedia, didn't have anything. Neither did WikiPedia itself. And a Google search only turned up multiple listings for the action figure itself.

Somewhat surprisingly, this is not the first Spartan in the Halo line to have pink armor. Any number of male Spartans have had it, ever since the first Halo game, when the rainbow of colors available for various Spartans pretty well exploded all over the place. Although the dark, military olive green was reserved for the core character "Master Chief", the rest of the color spectrum has been pretty well wide open. Red Spartans, Blue Spartans, Gold Spartans, Tan Spartans, Purple Spartans, Brown Spartans, White Spartans, Black Spartans, Orange Spartans -- and yes, Pink Spartans.

Some of the colors get more attention than others. There's been a comedic feud of "Red vs. Blue" in the Halo universe. McFarlane Toys, at least for a while, reserved Orange Spartans for international exclusives, which pretty well drove the collectors' community nuts. Blue Spartans were generally reserved for Walmart.

But Pink? Let's face it, just in general, that's not a color that crops up all that often in the action figure world. Most of the time, when it comes to toys, if you think pink, you're somewhere in the Barbie aisle. The exceptions where a predominance of pink have turned up in the action figure world are, to put it mildly, minimal.

G.I. Joe has had all of ONE character that had a significant amount of pink on her -- Zarana, Zartan's sister. In Transformers, pink is most often associated with the most prominent female Autobot, Arcee -- who took forever to see any sort of toy made of her after her debut in the comic book and animated series. I've got a couple of pink Gundams here, one of which is a version of one of the few distinctly female Gundams in any of the Gundam concepts, G-Gundam's Noble Gundam.

It's just not a color that turns up in the action figure world all that often. And yet -- here it is in Halo. Here it is in a concept based on a Rated-M-for-Mature video game, featuring all-out battles against horrific alien invaders, the good guys dressed in this sophisticated, high-tech armor, throwing as much firepower as they can against a relentless enemy on some of the most inhospitable alien battlefields ever devised. And some of them have are wearing -- pink armor.

Now, this may sound extremely sexist, but I think a female Spartan can probably get away with wearing pink armor more easily than a male Spartan can. If nothing else, if she's tough enough to make it as a Spartan in the first place, and then decides to wear pink armor, if anybody gives her grief over it, she'll probably kick their armored caboose all the way from Reach clear back to Earth.

So, how's the figure? Very nicely done, indeed. As one might expect, the figure uses a lot of the same molds as the individual Kat figure, although an entirely new right arm had to be made, since the Air Assault Spartan does not have the cybernetic arm that Kat does. It's been designed to match the armor design of the left arm, of course.

Not surprisingly, the basic design of the Spartan armor is very similar to the male Spartans, just adjusted in some respects to fit the female form. The limbs are somewhat more slender, especially the arms, the waist a bit narrower, and the upper torso a bit more -- prominent. The figure is very slightly shorter, measuring 5-3/8", compared to the 5-1/2" of the average male Halo Spartan figure.

However, the basic elements remain the same. The Air Assault Spartan is wearing a semi-armored and clearly protective black "undersuit", over which the various colored armored components have been placed. These include a distinctive helmet, with the metallic-colored visor; a chestplate and back plate; and distinctive armor pieces on the upper arms, lower arms, backs of the hands, around the waist, upper legs, knees, and lower legs and boots.

A comparison to the Kat figure is inevitable. The Air Assault Spartan figure does not look quite as battle-worn. Although Kat is wearing blue-colored armor, there are areas especially around the legs where it has been made to look as though the blue paint has worn away to reveal a metallic silver finish underneath. The pink color of the Air Assault Spartan is much more intact from top to bottom.

That's not to say that the Air Assault Spartan doesn't have some signs of wear on her. In fact she does, with what looks like a very slight brushing of silver, especially on the legs. But it is much more subdued than it is on Kat.

The markings are slightly different. Kat has a number of somewhat worn-looking white stripes at various points on her armor. The Air Assault Spartan, for the most part, does not have these markings. The Air Assault Spartan has some markings. There is a black, bird-like emblem on the upper left chestplate, which I believe to be the emblem of the UNSC. This emblem also appears on Kat. And there are a few small yellow and white triangles and stripes here and there. They are not that easily seen because of the pink color of the armor. They just don't stand out as well.

The helmets are virtually identical in design, although Kat's helmet has an additional little device near the right ear. Generally speaking, within the world of Halo, helmet shape denotes Spartan specialty. I suppose this could well mean that Kat is an Air Assault specialist. I'll admit I'm not really familiar enough with Halo Reach to know for certain.

The only aspect of the Air Assault Spartan's armor that isn't pink are the kneecaps, which are silver with dark red on them. These are identical in color to Kat's knee armor.

Interestingly, some detail on the Air Assault Spartan figure has been painted a slightly darker shade of pink. Fine, the figure wants to be known as the "Rose" Spartan, let's call this color rose, then. There's not a lot of it, but it does appear in slightly recessed areas of the sculpt on the sides of the helmet, and the lower arms.

The overall sculpt is astounding. I've said this with any number of Halo figure reviews, but it bears being stated nevertheless -- these Spartans aren't Clone Troopers. They're not dressed in relatively smooth-looking armor, with break points here and there for articulation. The Spartan armor is highly detailed and very rugged-looking, clearly designed for an entirely different world, a very rough military battlefield environment. Every part of the armor is loaded with sculpted detail, panel lines, functional separations, and little painted details that may well represent little indicator lights of one sort or another. It's an amazingly complex design, and I doubt that it was any easier to render into plastic than it was to render it into the computer game in the first place. Anybody having anything to do with the design and execution of this armor in either electronic or figural form should be commended for getting away with it so well.

As for articulation -- here is where the redesign of the Halo figures with the advent of the Reach line really shines. Not that there was anything drastically wrong with the earlier McFarlane Toys figures. But they did have two notable aspects that caused a certain amount of difficulty among some fans and collectors. The leg articulation at the hip was a very quirky design, that sometimes led to the leg falling right off (generally it could be snapped back into place), and the wrists of the figures tended to be very narrow and fragile. And if one happened to be stuck through some happenstance or other, you could pretty well forget about loosening it without breaking it clean off, and unlike the leg, it wouldn't go back well.

McFarlane Toys has corrected both of these deficiencies, as well as made what I sincerely believe to be a sturdier overall figure. The worst thing I can say about it is that sizewise, it isn't really fully compatible with the previous Halo lines, and that's something of a shame. But it's still extremely impressive, and I truly perceive it to be a superior design and end product.

The Air Assault Spartan, typical for a Halo Reach figure, moves readily, but still has decently tight articulation. Nothing feels especially fragile. Nothing feels like it's going to fall off if it needs a little encouragement to move, or be adjusted into place a bit.

The Air Assault Spartan is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. Many of these articulation points have a considerable range of motion, including swivels or pivots as well as the expected back-and-forth motion.

Let's discuss paint application. For the most part, it's excellent. Very neatly carried out. Certainly well carried out is the application, however it may have been done, of tiny little details like the aforementioned emblems, stripes, and triangles. I'm especially impressed with the little diagonal black and yellow stripes around the feet, but really, all of these small details have been very well done.

Here and there, there might be a small painted detail that looks like it could have been done a bit more neatly. But honestly, these are few and far between, and on a figure as complex in design and detail as one of these Spartans, I'm inclined to be a bit more forgiving than I might be on, say, a figure with a human head whose hair looks like it was painted with the sort of brush that one usually goes to Home Depot for, rather than an art supply store.

As to accessories, the Air Assault Spartan comes with an impressive and nicely detailed rifle, mostly black, with some dark metallic gray painted details on it. She also comes with a small grenade. This is a standard accessory that every Spartan seems to come with, dating all the way back to when McFarlane Toys first obtained the license. Personally, I keep them all in a Ziploc bag with the words "Halo Grenades" printed on it.

So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. Female action figures are almost as rare in the action figure world as the color pink -- not that I'm trying to draw a connection between the two. And one line where you wouldn't necessarily expect to see a female action figure would be the very rough and dangerous world of Halo -- and yet here they are. First there was the individual Kat, and now we have this Air Assault Spartan. And she is a most welcome addition to the collection, and we also finally have a Pink Spartan that's not likely to have to put up with all that much grief over that fact.

Better still, the armor color makes her pretty easy to spot in a store display. She's not an exclusive to any particular store, so you should be able to find her at any store that carries Halo Reach figures. Unless somebody beats you to her, of course.

The HALO REACH figure of the AIR ASSAULT SPARTAN (FEMALE) in the Pink Armor, definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation.