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By Thomas Wheeler

There can be no question that HALO is one of the most popular video game concepts of the modern day. And when one considers just how many video games are out there, that's quite an achievement.

Very few of them, that do not have their roots in a pre-existing concept such as Star Wars or some such, go on to become virtual household names, with marketing and products well beyond the games themselves. A handful have managed this. Street Fighter. Mortal Kombat. Sonic the Hedgehog. Plus, a few others.

HALO has managed to achieve this lofty status, not only with three distinctly numbered games, but the recent HALO Wars, a range of comic books, paperback novels -- and of course, action figures.

As of HALO 3, the action figures are being produced by McFarlane Toys, and really, they've done a superb job. About the worst thing I can say about them is that I sort of wish they'd find a packaging design they like and stick with it. The first series came in these hermetically-sealed blister packages that were plastic on all sized and required the sort of scissors to open that one might otherwise for trimming cuts of meat.

The second and third series were released on somewhat more conventional packaging, in that it had cardboard backing and a plastic bubble, but the cardboard back was not much bigger than the bubble. However, the diagrams on the back were useful from the standpoint of figuring out which Spartan variations were available in which colors.

With the fourth series, McFarlane Toys has packaged their Halo 3 action figures on what could arguably be stated to be the most conventional packaging of all. It's a plastic bubble on a cardboard back, which is larger, or at least taller, than the plastic itself. It has the Halo 3 logo on it, with a graphic of Master Chief behind it, and the figure packaged below. The card back features pictures of the other figures available in the wave, denoting some of them as exclusives, even if it doesn't say where they are exclusive.

The packaging is positively retro. I rather like it, actually.

Now, understandably, McFarlane Toys has placed a considerable emphasis on the Spartans in this toy line. The Spartans are the armored warriors who are defending Earth and humanity from a fearsome alien invasion. The most notable of these is Master Chief, who is the central (and most playable) character in the Halo video games.

But ever since the first game, and back when Joyride Studios had the toy license, there have been multiple color variations on the armor, well beyond Master Chief's basic olive drab. Red, Blue, White, Black, -- even Pink and Purple.

With the advent of HALO 3, we were introduced to other types of Spartans, with different specialties -- Rogues, Scouts, CQB's, EOD's, ODST's, EVA's, the exceptionally peculiar Hayabusas -- and of course, McFarlane Toys took full advantage of this, since most of these figures were straightforward Spartans whose main differences, other than stated specialty, were limited to chestplate design, shoulder armor, and helmets. Easy enough to work that into the molding process.

As any HALO fan who has tried to compile a fairly complete collection of Spartans has found -- it ain't easy. There are so many exclusives. Anything blue generally ends up at Wal-Mart. But there's any number of other exclusives. Toys "R" Us, Suncoast, GameStop, Hot Topic, and others, have all had exclusives. Likely the only reason Target hasn't is they're not carrying the line -- surprisingly enough. There are even some Spartans that can't be found in the United States!

Need it be said, I am not a completist with this line. Don't misunderstand me. I like the figures. I think these are some of McFarlane's best work ever. And I have well over a dozen of them, and am glad to have them. But I have enough frustrations in my toy collecting hobby without trying to find a way to get hold of a figure that's not even available on this continent.

And the question does inevitably need to be asked -- how many Spartans, even within certain specialties, does one need? How many Scouts do I need? How many CQB's? How about something new?

Well, with Series 4, we HAVE got something new -- the Security Spartan. There are two versions of him available. A pale olive version that is generally available -- assuming you find one before it flies off the shelves the way this line tends to -- and a silver one that is an exclusive to GameStop, a prominent video game retailer.

There was something about the name "Silver Security Spartan" that I rather liked, so I decided to try to find one of him. Fortunately there's no shortage of GameStops around here, so this proved to be -- well, to be honest, a lot easier than I expected.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. Most of these Spartan figures are all pretty much identical, individual specialized attributes and color schemes notwithstanding. Fortunately, McFarlane Toys has come up with a superb design, based, really, on the design of the armor from the game, which in and of itself is extremely impressive.

We're not talking Stormtroopers here. The Spartan armor looks far more plausible and real world, even though the setting for the game is centuries from now. There's a distinct rough military look to the armor. Spartans wear a sort of black "undersuit", itself partially armored and looking very tough, over which is attached the actual protective armor, which consists of heavily detailed segmented pieces on the chest, lower torso, back, arms, and legs. And of course a helmet.

For the most part, this armor is identical from one Spartan to another, color notwithstanding. But that's okay. Hey, you find this effective a design, why not stick with it? The main differences are in limited details.

In the case of the Security Spartan, he seems to have the same chestplate as the basic Mark VI Spartan, which includes Master Chief himself. This would probably be regarded as the most generalized chest armor, as opposed to some of the others, who have chest armor designs that to one degree or another are supposed to be an aid to their particular specialty.

But it is here that the Security Spartan's resemblance to Master Chief or any other Spartan type ends. The shoulder pieces are huge, easily the largest of any other Spartan. Big pieces of armor with a large raised section in the middle and distinctly more detailing than on most.

Then there's the helmet. The helmets are easily the most diverse aspect of the Spartans. You can pretty well tell one Spartan type from another by his helmet. The Security Spartan's helmet is a very rounded one, that in itself being somewhat unusual, as most Spartan helmets tend to be rather angular in design to one degree or another. It's a good helmet design, with a huge and very wide gold visor across the front of it. This is a Spartan that would have an excellent field of vision.

There's one additional detail, something no other Spartan has had previously. There's a little gadget of some sort attached to the back of his armor, hear the right shoulder. One must assume it's some sort of communications device. It has a little antenna rising out of the top of it. It's an interesting and unique feature, but I would caution anyone buying this figure to treat it very, very gently. The antenna is not especially flexible, and I suspect could break off, and I'd hate to have to try to fix it.

Articulation-wise, the Spartan is superb. All of the Spartans have been superb. The package boasts "26 Moving Parts", and it's not kidding. The Security Spartan is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, mid-torso, legs, knees, ankles, and the fronts of the feet. Most of these points of articulation have a multiple range of motion, which is where the "26" comes from.

I would caution that some of the parts can stick a bit, and should be loosened very carefully. These are collector-type figures, and aren't really intended for a lot of rough handling. Be especially careful if the wrists on any of your Spartans are stuck. Ultimately, though, you should be able to render your Spartan fully mobile, if he isn't already.

Paint detailing is very neatly done. I've seen a few gaffes slip in from time to time. As a matter of fact, I passed on an Olive Security Spartan I saw because some of the paint was so sloppy. But it's not at all impossible to find a neatly painted Spartan. The silver on this Security Spartan is nicely done. Most of the ridges sculpted into the design have been detailed with black, a practice I normally dislike, but it sort of works here. He has an orange band on his leg with the Roman numeral "VI" in it. This is also repeated on his upper right arm, but it's obscured by the huge shoulder piece. This, however, is removable if you really want a look. The visor is very nicely painted, as well.

Accessory-wise, this GameStop exclusive Security Spartan comes with a Plasma Pistol, and SMG, and a Trip Mine. The Trip Mine in particular is a new piece of equipment that I have not previously seen with any Spartan figure, and it's a nicely done item. The rest of the hardware is well-made, too. Reportedly, the Olive Spartan comes with a couple of big guns called Maulers, so this GameStop exclusive has his own distinctive weaponry.

So what's my final word here? I'm impressed. I was truly pleased to see a new Spartan specialty enter the ranks. To be honest, I'm not sure how many more there are. I think there's a Recon Spartan that's so special even in the game that it's only given out to company employees on a very limited basis. Whether we'll ever see a figure of that one I have no idea. I'd certainly get one if we did.

But, the Security Spartan is an interesting new addition, bringing the total of Spartan variations available (and that's type, not color -- don't get me started on that) to nine. So you can really build a very effective Spartan army to fight off the Covenant aliens (many of which are also available as figures).

And among those, the GAMESTOP HALO 3 SILVER SECURITY SPARTAN definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!