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By Thomas Wheeler

While this is strictly a personal observation, I tend to believe that the success of any given "pop culture" concept is its ability to extend itself beyond its original source. G.I. Joe is best known as a toy line, but there have been comic books, animated series, and movies. Star Trek is best known as a TV show, but it spawned a large group of superb sequel series (and one superb prequel series), a host of movies, action figures, comic books, novels, and a Klingon Language Institute.

By this measure, HALO is certainly a success. Although best known as a series of video games, it has had a series of novels, comic books, a MegaBloks building toy, action figures, and no shortage of fans screaming, "Why hasn't there been a movie yet!?"

The most recent video game is called HALO: REACH, and it is actually a prequel game. Its core character, rather than Master Chief, who has been the main playable character of most of the previous Halo games, is instead a Spartan soldier who goes by the name of NOBLE SIX. As one would expect, he was one of the first figures released when McFarlane Toys, the current producer of Halo action figures, shifted the ongoing line to accommodate the new game. This review will take a look at Noble Six.

Halo: Reach takes place in 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 is an Earthlike colony that serves as the UNSC's main military hub.

The game follows the actions of "Noble Team", a UNSC special operations unit composed of Spartans. Players assume the role of an unnamed new addition to the team, identified by the call sign Noble Six. Noble Team's other members include Carter-A259, Kat-B320, Jorge-052, Emile-A239, Jun-A266. All have been made as action figures in the new line, by the way.

Noble Team, dispatched to discover why a communications relay has gone offline, discovers Covenant forces on Reach. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Noble Six is no cipher, however. Just as with Master Chief in the other Halo games, the character of Noble Six has been outlined quite thoroughly.

Noble Six, whose real name -- such as it is -- is Spartan-B312. According to some online research courtesy of the Web Site known as "Halo Nation", he was taken out of Beta Company immediately after training, according to a communique from Kurt Ambrose to Franklin Mendez that was sent in May 2545, two months before Operation: Torpedo.

Over the course of his career, Spartan-B312 gained a reputation as an efficient "lone-wolf" assassin, having single-handedly broken organizations and made entire militia groups disappear. B312 was also a test pilot in a top-secret UNSC project, the Sabre Program, which resulted in the development of the YSS-1000 "Sable"-class starfighter. B312 used these skills to great effect in a counter-insurgency operation on Mamore on May 10, 2552.

At one point, B312's superior allegedly used the Spartan as "his own private grim reaper" and because of this, he was reluctant to have the Spartan assigned to Noble Team. On July 24, 2552, Spartan B312 was assigned to Noble Team as a replacement for its previous sixth member, Thom-293. Six, having recently arrived on Reach, joined the team just in time to participate in an operation to investigate a communications blackout at the Visegrad Relay, a mission which led to the first confrontation with Covenant forces on Reach.

During the final weeks before Reach's eventual end, Noble Six partook in multiple operations against Covenant forces on Reach along with the rest of Noble Team, including a counter-offensive to retake an ONI base, a night-time reconnaissance mission with Jun-A266, where the two Spartans formed a temporary alliance with some local militia, and a large-scale UNSC assault on a Covenant-occupied site and the neutralization of a Covenant tower.

On August 14, Noble Team helped UNSC forces repel Covenant invaders from a UNSC base which housed a Sabre launch facility. Six and Jorge were then launched into orbit in a Sabre to assist the Epsilon Eridani Defense Fleet in a space battle. The operation was successful, with the Covenant fleet eliminated, but at the cost of Jorge's life. However, a far larger Covenant fleet arrived moments later.

Six, after re-entering Reach from space, headed to New Alexandria, where the Spartan assisted the UNSC infantrymen in repelling the invading Covenant forces and evacuating the civilian population. The Spartan managed to establish radio communication with Noble Team and participated in the removal of Covenant communication jammers to allow the evacuation of ONI personnel. Six finally reunited with Noble Team.

Not long after, Noble Team was hailed by its commanding officer and was ordered to destroy Sword Base in a torch-and-burn operation. Once at Sword Base, however, Six was urged by a scientist on the premises, Dr. Halsey, to become the courier of a package and to deliver it safely to the UNSC ship "Pillar of Autumn".

Noble Six, along with Emile, successfully delivered the package to the captain of the Autumn. Six and Emile would then stall the Covenant forces from overwhelming the ship, at the cost of Emile's life. Autumn departed into space.

With the Covenant forces successfully disabling Reach's defenses, Noble Six was among the few surviving UNSC soldiers left fighting the Covenant forces on the ground. Six continued fighting, and held off an army of Covenant forces, including Wraith tanks and air support. Six was eventually heavily wounded by plasma fire and, after taking on multiple Covenant Elites in hand to hand combat, was finally overwhelmed and killed by no less than an Elite Field Marshall wielding an Energy Dagger.

As to his personality and background, Noble Six is described as a skilled assassin, with an obscure (and heavily classified) past, hyper-lethal skills, and a tendency to be a lone wolf. However, he does have a human side, and is seen during the campaign as frequently assisting and befriending soldiers, civilians, and other members of Noble Team in need, ultimately sacrificing himself in order to secure safe passage for the UNSC vessel. Were it not for Noble Six's final actions, Jacob Keyes, Cortana, and John-117 -- better known as Master Chief -- may never have escaped Reach, and therefore Spartan-B312 is partially responsible for humanity's ultimate victory over both the Covenant and the Flood in later Halo games.

So, how's the figure? Very cool, if seemingly a little nondescript on some respects. But in a way, that may be appropriate for the character to some degree.

Don't get me wrong. This is an armored Spartan figure wearing some extremely detailed armor. These guys aren't Clone Troopers or Stormtroopers with their relatively smooth, white armor. Spartan armor is a lot more detailed and rugged-looking than that. I suppose a more polite term for Noble Six than "nondescript" would -- straightforward.

Consider his conceptual predecessor, Master Chief, the main playable character of previous Halo games. Master Chief wore olive green armor, a color that was not seen, at the very least, on any other Spartan action figures. And there was certainly a rainbow of colors available, not to mention Spartan types -- ODST's, Hayabusas, EOD's, CQB's, Scouts, Recons, and others. Master Chief didn't have any of these specialties. He was a Spartan -- period. Granted, all of these Spartan specialties and all of these colors certainly made for an extensive action figure line.

The same is true for Halo Reach. There are numerous Spartan specialties, and no shortage of colors out there. I've seen red, blue, pink, a very intense green, orange, and others. And then you have the other Noble Team members. To one degree or another, they all seem to have customized their Spartan armor. One member, Kat, even has a cybernetic arm -- not exactly a voluntary customization, I would say.

So then there's Noble Six. And he's a pretty straightforward Spartan in armor that is predominantly such a dark gray that it's almost indistinguishable from the black armored undersuit that Spartans wear, with some portions that are a more silver in color, but I'd hardly call it a polished silver. "Colorful" isn't exactly a word one is going to use with Noble Six.

Although I generally dislike painted on battle-damage on action figures, when it comes to Halo, it fits. Read the lineup of missions that Noble Six is involved with. It's a wonder this guy has any time to stop and eat, let alone wash his armor or give it a fresh coat of paint. The Spartans of Halo Reach are involved in a battle which they ultimately will not win, but they're going to give it their best shot, and they're faced with a literal full-scale planetary invasion. That's going to make for some harsh battlefields and very little down-time.

And while players may be new to Halo Reach, playing the role of Noble Six, he himself is hardly new to the service. You're not getting some rookie fresh out of whatever training academy Spartans attend. This is an experienced soldier, even if from the sound of it he's spent a fair portion of his time being a sniper or involved in experimental programs which one would likely classify as "behind the scenes". He is skilled and he is experienced. He's new to Noble Team, not the world of combat.

Noble Six, like most of the Spartans in the Halo Reach series, stands about 5-1/2" in height. This is actually a slight scale adjustment from previous Halo lines. For whatever reason, when McFarlane Toys started their Halo Reach series, they altered the scale somewhat. Previous Spartans were 5-1/4". I know, it doesn't sound like much, but in this size range, the difference is visible. I'd probably say that some of the vehicles might be compatible back and forth, but not the figures themselves.

McFarlane Toys also significantly redesigned the structure of the figure, and here, there were aspects of it that needed it. The two single biggest complaints about earlier Halo figures were a very strange leg and hip design that made movement somewhat difficult and had a tendency for legs to fall off on occasion (generally speaking they could be snapped back on). The second complaint was extremely thin and fragile wrists -- and if a wrist's articulation was stuck, you were more likely to snap the hand off than free it.

Both of these matters have been very effectively dealt with in the new design. The leg design is much more straightforward, while still allowing for an excellent range of motion, and the wrists, while having a more complex design than the previous "ball and socket", are also sturdier in design than before.

One distinct advantage to making an action figure of an armored character is that a lot of the articulation can be worked into the armor design. Arms, elbows, knees, and such, can be well-articulated without cutting into the design of the actual armor, since as would be the case with the character, such "articulation points" would not be armored anyway. The Spartans seem to wear a somewhat armored black undersuit, over which the thicker, more protective armor is placed, but the basic principle still works.

Noble Six's armor is, for the most part, so dark that it's hard to tell where the armor really begins. However, the armor plating is very prominent in shape if not in color, and is very nicely rendered on the action figure. It possesses a very rigged design, lots of angles and panels, with plenty of sculpted detail. One should especially take note of the extensive detailing on the lower arms.

Some parts of the armor are not as gray-black as others. The lower arms and lower legs are more silver in color, and there are silver "scrapes" on most of the rest of the armor. Whether or not some fictional "original paint job" has just worn off, I really don't know. Two other Spartans I have here also have silver lower arms and legs, but a couple don't. But even the silver areas aren't exactly "shiny". I wouldn't call them "tarnished", just not polished.

The helmet, while somewhat close to Master Chief's, is different enough to give Noble Six his own identity. It looks a fair bit like Master Chief's from the side, but from the front, it looks a little more dome-shaped. A mostly gold visor, easily the brightest color on the figure, conceals the face. The visor almost turns silver at the very front. Nice effect. I should mention that when shopping for Halo figures, always check the visor. Most of them are fine, but I've encountered a few with really sloppy paint jobs.

Paint detailing on the figure as a whole is very well done, although a considerable portion of it is designed to make the figure look like he's been through quite a few battles. However, the paint work accomplishes this objective admirably.

Of similar interest are the little imprinted symbols and lines and such. Noble Six has the initials "UNSC" on either side of his helmet, a couple of white stripes on the top of his helmet, a barely perceptible black emblem on his chestplate (more readily seen on other more brightly colored Spartan figures), And little yellow triangles and some other stripes across various portions of his armor. Of particular note are the black and yellow diagonal stripe-strips on his feet.

Also notable are the little areas of bright blue here and there on his armor. I don't know for certain, but I've long been of the opinion that these may represent some sort of small lights. I've seen them on every Halo Reach Spartan figure I've purchased.

Articulation is excellent. Noble Six is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, ankles, and the front of his feet. Most of his articulation points have multiple ranges of motion.

Any complaints? Two, relatively minor. On the Noble Six figure that I picked up, the outward motion of the right arm and the rotation of the lower right arm are rather loose. Now, this is doubtless just this figure, and it's not all that bad. I've certainly encountered worse in the toy world. But I bring it up for the sake of addressing a potential quality control issue.

The other one is that some of his articulation points have a very tight "ratcheting" motion. It's either on one side of a "click" or the other. This isn't too much of an annoyance, except when it comes to the ankles. It can make it a little difficult for him to assume a basic standing position. I've never really understood why any action figure needs "ratcheting" articulation. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

As to accessories, Noble Six comes with a small grenade, that seems to be a common accessory with every Spartan out there. I recommend putting the whole lot in a Ziploc bag. They're small and would be easily lost. He also comes with a very nicely detailed and suitably futuristic-but-not-implausible rifle, one of several types being distributed among the Spartans of the Halo Reach line.

So, what's my final word? This is an extremely cool figure. And he is pretty much the central character of Halo Reach. If you're going to collect any of the Halo Reach figures, and it really is a superb, and admittedly extensive line, then you do need to make sure that Noble Six is part of your collection. And I'm sure you'll be glad to have him.

The HALO REACH figure of NOBLE SIX definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!