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By Thomas Wheeler

The line of HALO action figures from McFarlane Toys has proved to be immensely popular, with its wide and varied Spartans and assorted other troopers and aliens. However, the line has been somewhat more limited in its vehicular entries. This is due in part to the scale of the toys. Generally around the 5" or so scale, there's only so many vehicles that can be reasonably done in that size. While I think most fans would love to see the Warthog vehicle turned out someday, in the meantime we do have the MONGOOSE ATV-type vehicle.

A special edition of this vehicle was produced, accompanied by a special edition of the HALO: ODST Rookie figure. Both items were listed as being "in VISR Mode". As my knowledge of the video game proper is somewhat limited, I wasn't sure what this meant, but it certainly looked cool.

So let's have a look at the Mongoose. I was able to track down some basic history of the Mongoose courtesy of a Web Site called "HaloPedia".

The formal name of the Mongoose is the M274 Ultra-Light All-Terrain Vehicle. If it existed in real life, it would weigh 896 pounds, and have a top speed of 60 MPH. What do the troops think of it? There's a quote here from an "Anonymous Serviceman" that reads, "Speed is the only protection this vehicle provides; it is unarmored, noisy, and prone to roll-over. It demands a level of skill from its operator that is impossible to expect... during combat conditions."

The M274 ULATV is one of the fastest and most maneuverable ground vehicles in the arsenal of the UNSC Marine Corps. It is a highly effective vehicle for reconnaissance, rapid transportation, swift tactical versatility, and for shooting between positions. A smaller cousin to the ubiquitous M831 Troop Transport, the Mongoose is a small ATV capable of carrying a driver in the middle of the vehicle, and features a rear platform that can be used to carry one additional passenger. Because it carries no armament of its own, having a passenger is usually essential if engaging in a combat zone. Due to its smaller size, the Mongoose is a difficult target for both slow and fast moving enemy weaponry, as opposed to the Warthog, whose size is somewhat substantial.

The Mongoose's high speed, light mass, and practically non-existent armor make it unwieldy and difficult to control at high speeds and/or over unstable terrain, making the ULATV vulnerable to destabilization, crashes, and flips. To make matters worse, the design of the vehicle and its lack of armor leave both the driver and the passenger completely exposed. Furthermore, the Mongoose does not incorporate any offensive or defensive capabilities, making the Mongoose's only practical defenses an armed passenger and its speed. Does this sound like a military contract or what!?

The Mongoose is operated by a single driver, situated in the middle of the vehicle. Once a driver is in place on the seat, the Mongoose accelerates rapidly, reaching a top speed of 60 mph. The lack of weaponry mounted on the Mongoose makes the presence of an armed passenger often essential in combat zones. The Mongoose's extreme speed and maneuverability makes it the best choice to zoom through enemy lines. The Mongoose's speed and acceleration makes it almost impossible to hijack.

So, how's the toy? Well, whatever its difficulties within the world of Halo may be, it's certainly an impressive vehicle.

The main body of the Mongoose is about six inches in length, with the passenger seat extended. Additional framework, foot stand, and the extended tires bring the total length of the Mongoose to 6-1/2 inches. It's about 3-1/2" wide at its widest point, which is the tires, and about 3 inches high.

If you're going to do an ATV as a toy, it should reasonably resemble an ATV. The Mongoose definitely looks like an ATV. The HALO adventures may take place several centuries in the future, but much of the design work on everything from characters to Spartan armor, while certainly futuristic, isn't that far removed from reality. It all looks reasonably plausible.

This is true of the Mongoose. It has a fairly wide front, with an angular windshield that protects the handlebars as much as anything. It has a narrow center with a driver's seat, and a wider, if less extensive, rear section, which is less than one would expect to see on a conventional ATV, but which is doubtless necessary in the design of this vehicle in order to accommodate a passenger in the back who might be either standing or sitting depending on whether he's just along for the ride or trying to take down enemy forces. The rear of the vehicle has a handlebar, a small platform, and a fold down seat.

While the basic Mongoose is primarily colored a dark olive green, this VISR Mode version is dark grey, with narrow, bright green lines all over it, essentially forming a sort of framework outline that I might be inclined to describe as "Tron lite". I'll get to explaining the VISR Mode shortly, but visually, the overall effect is quite striking.

The tires are black and rubbery, but not hollow. The tires are thickly treaded and look like they could handle just about any terrain imaginable. The wheels do not turn from side to side, but the vehicle does roll very nicely across any surface. The tires have a very free-rolling motion to them, and are heavy enough so that I think the added weight actually gives them a little more momentum.

Overall, the Mongoose is surprisingly heavy for its size. It is very sturdy and well made, and if it has any fragile parts on it, I would expect them to be the handlebars and the foot pegs, but even these seem quite durable. On the whole, it's a very impressive vehicle.

Now, let's consider the figure that comes with this vehicle, because the ODST Rookie certainly has a story of his own.

The character originates from the HALO video game specifically called HALO 3: ODST. Players assume the roles of elite human United Nations Space Command soldiers known as Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) during the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3.

The game features an open world environment in the fictional African city of New Mombasa. ODST takes place in the 26th century, when humans under the command of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) are locked in a war with a theocratic alliance of alien races known as the Covenant. During the events of the 2004 video game Halo 2, the Covenant discovers the location of Earth and launch an assault on the city of New Mombasa in Africa. Though the UNSC manages to repel most of the fleet, a single ship lands above the city and eventually retreats via a slipspace jump, creating a shockwave that destroys a part of the city. While the rest of Halo 2's storyline follows the carrier to a ringworld called Halo, ODST focuses on the aftermath of the shockwave, where the Covenant still occupies the city.

Although the gameplay of ODST bears a strong resemblance to previous Halo titles, the player does not assume the role of the enhanced human supersoldier Master Chief. Instead, the player controls a lone UNSC soldier, known as the "Rookie". Since the player does not possess the Master Chief's advanced armor and reflexes, they cannot jump as high or move as fast.

As to "The Rookie", the game's main protagonist, he is a young unnamed member of a special military unit, the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, known as ODSTs or Helljumpers. ODSTs often deploy in small, one-man Human Entry Vehicles (HEVs), launched from spaceships in the upper atmosphere. The Rookie is assisted in finding his teammates by Mombasa's city maintenance artificial intelligence known as the Superintendent. The Rookie's teammates are Buck, Dutch, Romeo, Mickey, and Dare, a UNSC Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) agent in charge of the squad's operation.

The game begins with Dutch, Romeo, Mickey and the Rookie discussing plans for assaulting the Covenant Prophet of Regret's ship above New Mombasa. Buck arrives and introduces Dare. The team enter their HEVs and drop through the atmosphere toward the ship; at the last minute, Dare changes their trajectory to miss the carrier. The Covenant ship enters slipspace, sending a shockwave toward the ODSTs; the Rookie's pod collides with another and crashes to the ground, knocking him unconscious for six hours. He awakens and proceeds to find clues as to what happened to his squadmates. Along the way, he discovers clues and evidence of his squad's exploits while he was unconscious.

So, how's the figure? Pretty cool, really, and rather distinctly different from Master Chief or any of the Spartans, including the ODST Spartans.

Some time back, McFarlane produced a standard ODST soldier. Lacking the genetic enhancements of any of the Spartan divisions, the ODST was somewhat shorter in stature than the various Spartans. Most Spartan figures stand approximately 5" in height. The ODST Soldier figure stands slightly under 4-3/4" in height. That doesn't sound like all that much, but given the scale, it's fairly considerable.

The Rookie figure, who has seen a previous, non-VISR release, borrows quite a few molds from the first ODST, and uses the same head, upper legs, and to a degree, chest and back equipment as the original ODST figure.

However, there are also significant differences. The Rookie has entirely different arms, additional equipment on the chest and upper left leg, and the boots are distinctly different. The shoulder armor, although similar to the original ODST, is more ornate, and certainly comes from a different set of molds.

One VERY distinct improvement are the hands. Most of the HALO figures in my collection -- which includes a fairly large cast of Spartans and the first ODST -- have a painfully small, thin ball-and-socket wrist joint. Given that McFarlane's HALO figures have a tendency to be heavily painted and, as such very prone to stuck parts, it scares the heck out of me anytime I get a HALO Spartan with stuck wrists. I'm honestly afraid that I'm just going to snap it right off trying to loosen it.

The Rookie has a double joint, that works a lot better. The entire wrist and hand assembly is inserted into the lower arm along a rotation point, and the wrist has a back and forth movement separate from this, along a peg joint. It's still pretty thin, but it looks sturdier than the usual. I've heard several Halo collectors comment on this, and some wouldn't mind seeing it become a transitional trend in future Spartan figures.

Paintwise, this ODST Rookie is almost entirely black, or at least an exceptionally dark gray. There are a few color details on him, including the chestplate, wrist gauntlets, and a bit of trim on the helmet and back, which appear to be metallic gray. Also the visor to his helmet appears as a very dark blue. But, as with the Mongoose itself, the really distinctive trim is the bright green outlining, that is extensively and very neatly painted throughout his armor. He looks even more "Tron lite" than the vehicle, and I can only guess what designing the paint stencils for this must have entailed.

The Rookie is very well articulated, and is poseable at the head, arms, a weird double-swivel on the upper arm, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles, although the ankles are hindered a bit by the design of the boots. Many of these points have multiple ranges of motion.

The bottoms of his boots are very nicely detailed. Interesting tread pattern. Overall, the detail level on this figure, as with most of the Halo figures, is excellent and astoundingly intricate, reflecting well the look of the armored soldiers in the game.

So what, precisely, is VISR Mode? Once again, we check what Halopedia has to say:

VISR stands for Visual Intelligence System, Reconnaissance. The system is an integrated data management system incorporated into the helmets of ODST soldiers. The VISR provides tactical data in real time as it is broadcast, and can link into numerous infrastructure systems at the local, national, and global network levels. The VISR also provides navigational data, various points of interest in the area, and other important functions.

Most notably, it also includes low-light vision enhancement systems as part of the ODST system, thus raising the brightness of the surrounding area on the user's Heads-Up Display during night operations. The VISR's low vision enhancement also links with the user's Neural Interface to provide Friend or Foe designation by searching for transponders on friendly or enemy infantry.

And here's where we get to the cool green outlines on the figure and vehicle. Enemy and friendly infantry, weapons, and other objects are highlighted with different colors. "Friendly" combatants are highlighted in green, "enemy" combatants are highlighted in red, usable weapons and vehicles are highlighted in blue, other objects on orange, and beacons and data terminals in yellow.

Which certainly makes for a colorful battlefield, hmmm? Obviously, this rainbow of color outlines is a playable option in the video game.

There is one thing that definitely needs to be noted here. Within the game, the VISR mode works by placing a colored OUTLINE around various objects, personnel, vehicles, etc. This outline obviously alters with the viewed perspective of the given object. Now, while something like that works just fine within an electronic environment like a video game, it's not going to work as well with a three-dimensional, real-world toy.

Understandably, McFarlane as "adapted" the VISR mode so that the prominent points on both the figure and vehicle are outlined in the green, although obviously, they follow the pattern of the toys regardless of the perspective. It's still a very cool effect, even if it isn't precisely as it appears in the game. But that would've been an outright impossibility.

It's also worth mentioning that there's an enemy figure coming up in the line that is also in VISR mode, and is highlighted in red.

Now, I played a hunch with this toy. The highlighting on the figure and vehicle was bright green. And it reflects an electronic enhancement system -- which is pretty cool to have an actual physical toy mimicking an electronic enhancement, if you think about it -- that's designed to increase visibility in low light.

So I wondered -- did it -- just maybe -- glow in the dark? There wasn't a thing on the box to indicate that it did. But I tried it. And -- IT DOES! It's not an especially powerful glow, but if you take the ODST Rookie and the Mongoose into a room that can be made completely dark and really let them soak up some bright light beforehand -- yes, they both GLOW! That's pretty cool!

So, what's my final word here? Okay, look, even if you already have a Mongoose -- which I did -- and even if you already have an ODST Rookie -- which I did -- this is a worthwhile set. The VISR Mode trim really creates a distinctive effect -- even when it's not glowing, and one can certainly argue that the UNSC has more than one Mongoose and more than one ODST at their command. And the VISR Mode effect really brings out one of the main features of the video game upon which it is based. The toys are sturdy and well-made, superbly detailed, and will make a nice addition to any HALO collection.

The HALO MONGOOSE with ODST ROOKIE in VISR MODE definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!