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By Thomas Wheeler

I'm starting to wonder what's ultimately going to be more numerous -- Clone Trooper variants in Star Wars, or Spartan trooper and color variants in Halo 3. McFarlane Toys has really taken their Halo 3 action figure line to an astounding level.

Although there are a number of assorted unpleasant-looking aliens available, it is certainly the Spartans, and not just their best-known representative, Master Chief, that are attracting the most fan attention. And unlike the admittedly excellent Joyride Studios line of figures which encompassed the first two games, McFarlane's Halo 3 line is able to take advantage of a far greater range of Spartan types, not just armor colors, than ever before. This review will take a look at three such figures, the TAN SCOUT, the OLIVE EOD, and the very strange RED HAYABUSA

Let's start with the TAN SCOUT: It's getting so one never quite knows where these figures are going to turn up. Halo is hardly limited to toy and mass market retailers such as Toys "R" Us, Wal-Mart, and K*B Toys. You can find them at Suncoast Video, Sam Goody, FYE, Spencer Gifts, Hot Topic, and various video game retailers such as GameStop.

I found this tan-armored Scout Spartan, and let me say that he's NOT an exclusive. I had seen this Tan Scout from Series 2 elsewhere -- just not all that much. These Halo figures have been so popular that if you blink you can miss them, and it's really only been with Series 3 that supply has even started to get close to meeting demand. Since this guy was from, as I said, Series 2, I figured I'd better nab him while I had the chance.

I probably would've gotten him anyway, just for the record. He was a color and type of Spartan that I had yet to bring into my admittedly somewhat limited collection. As cool as these Halo figures are, I'm not even trying to be a completist with them. There are so many different types, not to mention unusual exclusives, some of which aren't even available in the United States, that it's just impossible for me. If you've got the capability to round up every Spartan that McFarlane is making, more power to you, and good luck. Me, I'll be grateful for what I can and do find and can afford. And that included this Tan Scout. Let's see about these Scout Spartans:

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.

It's worth mentioning briefly that the RECON armor is the scarcest Spartan variant in the entire game, exclusive to employees of Bungie, the developers of the game, who also give it out to online players who impress or "amuse" them.

It is really an impressive suit of armor. But to date, there's no action figure of it, either. Wonder if McFarlane's been forbidden? Hopefully it'll happen, but I've got a hunch if it does, Halo fans'll be all over it, since the figure might be the only way they can get it.

Back to the Scout...

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.

Armored warriors of one sort or another have existed for thousands of years, and still do today, if you want to count things like Kevlar vests and such as protective armor. We can build the fanciest weapon-wielding machines around, but we still need to protect the human user to the best degree possible, or most of those weapons aren't going to be much good.

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. Its general shape could be compared to a dirt bike helmet. Overall, it's an impressive design in my opinion.

The shoulder pieces aren't terribly different from the standard Spartan. 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. 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.

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.

Most of the paint detailing is excellent, but there's a few spots on the helmet and the chestplate -- in other words, the "non-standard" parts -- where it looks like the paint trim was done by hand. This will, regardless of how talented the paint workers are at the factory, result in a certain visible sloppiness, and while this Scout Spartan isn't too bad, the black area on the helmet could stand to be neater, especially around the back where there's actually a little splat of black paint where it distinctly doesn't belong, as could one of the black straps on the chest. Call it an annoying lack of precision that could've been entirely remedied if proper painting procedures had been used.

I think what has happened here is that McFarlane Toys created paint spray masks for the basic armor, but left a lot of the variant pieces open for hand-painted trim. I have yet to see ANY toy line from ANY company where hand-painted trim worked out especially well, which is why I voice my objection to it when I encounter it.

Articulation is superb. The Scout Spartan is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, ankles, and the front of the feet. Many of these points have swivels as well as back and forth movement. I do tend to worry a bit about some of the points. They can stick a bit, or (especially in the case of the wrists) look a little fragile. The hips on this Scout Spartan are a bit loose for some reason, but not too severely. Not like, comparably, some of those Jungle Master Jungle Fury Power Rangers I've had to deal with. I guess I simply prefer good tight articulation as much as possible, and for the most part, this figure has that, although this did surprise me a bit. It's not like he isn't poseable or won't stand up, though. He certainly is, and does.

And I like the color. The tan is a nice desert tan, perfect for this environment. He has a red stripe on his upper right arm and upper right leg. Almost all of the Spartans have this in one color or another (generally yellow). There's a Roman numeral "VI" in the middle of the stripe, representing the Mark VI Spartan Armor.

The Scout Spartan's accessories include a Beam Rifle, a fairly sophisticated-looking piece of equipment, as well as a grenade. It's a nice accessory, but pretty tiny.

So what's my final word here? This is a cool figure. The Scout Spartan is an interesting and distinctive design, I like the tan color, which not only works for the desert environment in which I live, but would certainly work well on the battlefield, and on the whole, this is a very nicely done action figure.

Now let's consider the OLIVE EOD SPARTAN: Personally, I think calling this figure "Olive" is a bit of a stretch, but I'll get to that along the way.

So, what sets an EOD Spartan apart from other Spartans? Well, for one thing, EOD stands for "Explosive Ordnance Disposal". That ALONE is likely to set him pretty well apart from any other Spartans that don't want to get anywhere near him while he's doing his job.

The Mark VI MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor/EOD variant, more commonly known as Explosive Ordnance Disposal Armor, and abbreviated as EOD Armor, is a type of United Nations Space Command body armor.

The MJOLNIR/EOD variant was created at UNSC Damascus Materials Testing Facility facility on Chi Ceti 4. The helmet was designed to channel the pressure wave of an accidental detonation around the user's head, significantly reducing the likelihood of decapitation in the event of an explosion. The MJOLNIR/EOD variant's pauldrons and chest plate were designed specifically to reduce the number of grabbing edges on the armor, decreasing the likelihood of dismemberment, and protecting Spartans during operations involving the handling of explosive ordnance [e.g., clearing/planting land mines, demolishing enemy structures/ material and, or planting/defusing bombs].

This is a great infiltration suit also, because if anything tries to grab the suit they can't because of the armor's reduced hooking/grabbing places as said before.

The helmet is squared off with two separate eye pieces, rather than a bulky visor. They are more akin to a pair of goggles excluding the other MJOLNIR armor variants that are visor-adorned. In actual combat, this would highly increase protection to the face, but reduce the field of vision considerably. The helmet also has a single plate over the nose and mouth and a pair of rectangular objects along each cheek, assumed to be cheek guards and/or lengthy re-breathers.

The shoulders are large and rounded. They have been optimized for EOD missions and are designed to decrease the chances of dismemberment if the wearer were caught in a blast.

The chestplate is a bulkier version of the Mark VI armor variant. This design was most likely intended to increase wearer survivability in the event of a full-frontal explosion. The EOD chestplate also bears a striking resemblance to the design of the MJOLNIR Mark V armor's chestplate. (From Halo: Combat Evolved.).

So, with all of that, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. I've never been much of a collector of McFarlane products, but Halo 3 is proving to be an exception. While I certainly don't expect to be a completist with this line -- the wide range of variants, exclusives, and the recently announced 2009 lineup pretty well shot down that notion -- I will certainly buy these armored warriors as I am able to find and afford them, but I have little intention of trying to round them ALL up.

Then we have the issue of the color of this guy. Technically, it's not listed on the back of the package card. The back of the package card shows the wide range of colors and Spartan types available -- White, Blue, Steel, Pink(!), Tan, Red -- EVA's, Scouts, ODST's, Mark VI's (which includes Master Chief), CQB's, and of course, EOD's. But none of those colors match this character.

I've heard that this figure is officially designated "Olive". Well -- I have a little trouble with that, speaking as a graphic artist who likes to think he knows his colors. Between that and an extensive G.I. Joe collection, I think I know "olive" when I see it. You want olive, you've got Master Chief. This EOD Spartan isn't olive. Heck, even speaking foodwise, if I encountered a jar of olives that were this color, I think I'd be worried about food poisoning.

The main differences between the EOD Spartan and a standard Spartan as perhaps best defined by Master Chief are the helmet, the chestplate, and the shoulder pads.

I find the helmet particularly interesting because of it's "goggle-visor" look. Whole most of the Spartan variants have a fairly large, metallic chestplate, usually painted in a bright metallic gold, the EOD Spartan only has two gold eyepieces fair deep-set within a helmet that is marginally smaller than average in overall size, but with distinctly more "helmet" and less "faceplate", looks to be that much more protective. The "eyes" also give him just a little more personality -- more like he's looking back at you somehow.

The shoulders are of note from a comparative standpoint because they are both more protective and less angular. Most of the other Spartan variants do not ave significantly armored shoulders. The black ridged fabric undersuit can fairly readily be seen at the shoulder. There is usually a somewhat jutting piece of armor on the side of the upper arm that protects the shoulder to a certain degree, but it is not "all-covering" the way these shoulder armor pieces are. And these don't jut out, either.

Finally, there's the chestplate. It's very distinctive, and very angular. It does jut out more noticeably than most Spartan armor, and one can see the plausibility of the concept of the armor being designed in such a way to deflect an explosive blast away from the wearer. I wouldn't want to put something like this to a practical test, thank you very much, but it looks plausible, as well as very cool.

The figure stands about 5-1/8" in height. This is an unusual size for action figures these days, and I would be curious as to McFarlane's rationale for it, other than just to do something different, or it being a workable size to incorporate the considerable sculpted detail of the figure, and also turn something out in a nicely portable size that's not going to break a person's bank account, either. And that may be all there was to it, as far as that goes.

But it's still a slightly unusual size that no one else is really using right now. G.I. Joe and Star Wars are around 3-3/4", and they seem to have an increasing amount of company these days from Indiana Jones, DC Universe, and others. After that you sort of get into the 6" range, which would include Power Rangers, Marvel Legends, DC Universe Classics, and others. Beyond that you really head into 12". So let's say 5-1/4" depending on helmet configuration for Halo. That's pretty unusual. It's not a complaint. These seem to be good, solid figures, well-made. It's a good size for them, really.

The armor is very highly detailed and well sculpted. There's a certain amount of black wash over it, but I honestly think it's less to make the figure look "battle-weathered" and more to bring out the sculpted detail. I'm not certain of it's necessity, but it doesn't look too bad, especially on such a dark blue. Most of the armor is shared with other Spartans.

Articulation is excellent, although some of the points tend to stick a bit, and I am reluctant to force some of the more fragile looking ones -- especially the wrists -- to move. Anyway, the figure is very nicely poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso and waist, legs, knees, ankles, and the front of the feet. Most points of articulation have a multiple range of motion, and the articulation has been very nicely worked into the design of the armor. This is something that I've really only seen one other toy product get away with this well -- Star Wars Clone Troopers.

The figure comes with a very cool rifle. It's not as fancy or futuristic-looking as the one carried by Master Chief, but it still looks like it'd get the job done. I wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of it. He also comes with a small grenade, that thankfully is larger than the ones that Master Chief comes with, but it's still pretty small. If you don't pose your figure actually holding the grenade, I recommend a Ziploc bag for storage.

So, what's my final word here? I continue to be impressed. As I said, there's no way I'm going to try to be a completist with this line, but I'll buy what I like when I see it, and I liked what I saw with this guy. Honestly, ANY of the EOD Spartans would be a cool addition to any Halo 3 collection of action figures. It's a good design, I like the rather considerable variations from the "Master Chief basic", with regard to the shoulders, the chestplate, and especially the helmet. Definitely a cool addition to the line.

Now, while the color of this figure may have been a little peculiar, for the really strange, we have to turn to the RED HAYABUSA SPARTAN:

For the most part, the various Spartan variants in the HALO 3 line all look entirely plausible as armored soldiers from the future. The design of the armor is at once futuristic and believable.

And then there's the Hayabusa Spartan. The first time I saw a picture of this thing, my reaction was along the lines of "What the heck!?" I'm going to assume here that "hayabusa" is some future Japanese word that probably translates as "so freaky-looking it'll scare the aliens into surrendering". Granted, most of the aliens in the Halo games are quite ugly themselves!

I also sort of figured that the Hayabusa Spartan figure was SO odd-looking compared to any other Spartan division that he'd probably be pretty hard to find. Well, maybe McFarlane is shipping Series 3 in a more plentiful supply than the first two Series, because I really didn't have much trouble finding him.

I also honestly wondered, given how bizarre this Hayabusa was, if it was something that McFarlane had come up with, just to throw in the line. He just doesn't look as military as the others. And certainly, the history of McFarlane Toys has shown that they are well capable of producing some very bizarre stuff. Did this Hayabusa Spartan even exist within the Halo universe? Was he part of the game?

Much to my moderate surprise -- he is. I turned up information on the Hayabusa Project, within the Halo universe, and one on the Hayabusa armor itself. So, these freaky-armored guys really DO exist within the world of Halo. Let's consider first how they came to be, as part of this Hayabusa Project.

Project: HAYABUSA was a UNSC project similar to Project: MJOLNIR. While it had different aims than its rival project, MJOLNIR, both programs resulted in powerful battle armor that boosted energy shields. The HAYABUSA's project was to develop self-contained power armor, and the project eventually culminated in the development of the Hayabusa Armor, which was developed by RKD on Earth in 2536 and apparently accepted by the UNSC Ordnance Committee.

The Hayabusa Armor's advanced materials decreased its weighty bulk by one-third and aesthetically is Japanese in design, with a Samurai-like design and spiked shoulder pauldrons (commonly referred to as s'ode' for the shoulder armor, and kabuto for the helmet in more correct terminology for Japanese armor of the era). The most likely reason for the aesthetic features of the armor might be to inspire fear to enemy soldiers. It was available for use by the SPARTAN-II supersoldiers, although its field deployment appeared to be limited.

Hayabusa is Japanese for "peregrine falcon," and is also the name for an unmanned space mission conducted by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency set to return to Earth in 2010.

Looking at the figure, for the most part, the armor is identical to that of any other Spartan. But where it is different, it is EXTREMELY different. The helmet is especially unusual, and features 7 angular spikes, or spokes, one to each side and the face plate is fused into a single piece and contour. The top rear guard of the helmet is pointed, revealing the protruding spike. The bottom rear, around the neck forms a sort of neck guard, like that of a samurai helmet. It has been noted for its uncanny resemblance to the Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden. The 7 spikes are always silver.

The shoulder armor is certainly the most samurai-like aspect of the figure. Rather than the usual solid plate, whatever its shape may be from one Spartan type to another, there are three metal plates per shoulder arranged in an overlapping fashion, designed after the ancient armor of a Japanese samurai.

As to the chestplate, it is very different and in my opinion far more complex and somewhat ornate in design compared to other Spartan divisions. The Chest armor features a thick, round, "collar" piece protecting the neck; as well as an angular strip of armor that appears to be "strapped" down over the chest, featuring a small delta in the center.

The rest of the figure is pretty much standard Spartan. McFarlane Toys clearly spared no expense on the detail, anymore than the game developers did. The armor -- really regardless of which Spartan you bring in -- is very highly detailed and very intricate looking. Not just the obvious color armor, but just as much -- if not a little moreso in some respects -- the black protective undersuit underneath the major armor plating. This appears to be at least semi-armored, and most often looks like a thick mesh-weave with some armored aspects to it.

Overall paintwork is excellent, including on the helmet. I was especially pleased by this, since I have seen a few Spartan variants here and there where, at least on the helmet, the paint has been rather sloppy in some respects, and looks distinctly hand-applied. While I can't confirm this, I am of the opinion that the company arranged for proper paint spray masks to be created for the body armor, but left some of the helmet detailing to be done by hand. As intricate as the Hayabusa helmet is, hand-painting would've been darn near impossible, though. And is certainly appears to be very neatly applied here.

Articulation is, of course, excellent. The figure boasts 26 points of articulation on his package, and I'd say that's about right. Head articulation is a little hindered by the helmet backflap and the high collar, but it's still poseable. The rest of the articulation included the arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, ankles, and the front of the feet. There are various swivels and pivots along the way, too.

I do express a little concern about some of the thinner points of articulation. I'm not saying that the figure isn't made well. Clearly it is. But the wrists are extremely narrow. I try not to move them too much. I have heard some Spartan owners say that the hips can be a bit loose. I haven't encountered this too much, although the right leg on this Hayabusa isn't quite as tight as some.

It's worth noting that the package lists these figures as being for "Ages 14+". I think a lot of this is due to the fact that the Halo video games are rated "M". They're pretty violent stuff. However, I do tend to believe that as cool-looking as they are, these Halo figures would not hold up under a lot of rough child-play the way a Star Wars figure might. They really are designed more as a collectible for older fans. In an elementary school sandbox battlefield -- bet on the Clone Trooper for survival over the Spartan.

Again, that's not to malign these Halo figures -- merely to denote probable intended primary purpose. And I believe that in this case, McFarlane Toys intends these Halo figures to go to young adult and adult players of the video game -- not to small kids. And they are built accordingly, while still meeting the needed safety standards, of course.

Weaponwise, the Hayabusa Spartan comes with a very sophisticated rifle, although it's not as futuristic as what we're used to seeing Master Chief tote around. This is nevertheless a very impressive-looking piece of hardware that I've seen given to other Spartans in the series. He also comes with a hand grenade.

I did notice one thing mentioned on the Halopedia entry for the Hayabusa. Apparently another weapon -- if you can get access to it -- that the Hayabusa Spartan can made use of is a Katana, a Japanese sword. According to the entry, "The Katana is for aestethic purposes only, and is only unlocked after all original Achievements (1000 G) have been earned, as the Katana has all of the requirements for the Hayabusa armor to unlock it."

Now, to be honest, having never played any of the Halo video games (and being of the distinct opinion that I'd probably be blasted into cinders after about two steps off the landing craft or whatever), I have no real idea what this means. However, I am of the opinion that achieving one thousand of ANYTHING in the average modern fighting video game is no easy feat. I doubt there's a lot of Katana-swinging Hayabusas out there playing the game, and the Hayabusa Spartan figure doesn't come with one. Probably just be embarrassing to the owner of the game and the figure to have an action figure capable of doing something he can't...

So what's my final word here? Well, there's no question that this Hayabusa Spartan is a freaky piece of work. He's going to stand out in any crowd of Spartans, regardless of which color you get. And the color you're most likely to get is red, unless you feel like doing some international travel or have some properly connected friends to get you the orange one. I've also heard word that a pink Hayabusa is in the works. I, for one, am happy with the red. Somehow, it seems to fit the design best.

Freaky-looking or not, standout in a crowd of colorful Spartans or not, he's still impressive. McFarlane Toys is really doing a great job with these HALO 3 figures, and they're certainly proving popular enough. On the whole, the HALO 3 TAN SCOUT SPARTAN, OLIVE (yeah right) EOD SPARTAN, and the RED HAYABUSA SPARTAN all definitely have my enthusiastic recommendation. Go ahead, bring them all into your HALO collection!