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By Thomas Wheeler

I was a little surprised when I picked up this newest addition to the HALO 2 line, and it was called "Spartan" and not "Master Chief". Granted, "Spartan" is technically the designation of the high-tech armor this character wears, so there was some sort of connection here, but not being familiar with the actual gameplay, I wasn't sure what it was.

I also took note of the fact that in ToyFare #89, which has a page devoted to HALO 2 toys, the only one of the armored figures that was called "Master Chief" was the one in the green armor. The orange, white, and battle-damaged red and blue ones, were all called "Spartan". What was the story here? I'd more or less been under the impression that there was only one suit of Spartan armor, because the thing was so expensive, and it was worn by a specially-trained individual who was called Master Chief. The different colors of armor were the result of player choice when they played the game.

Well -- not quite, as it turns out, especially in the online world these days. Honestly, I don't think, even if I were halfway decent at video games, that I could ever quite get into playing them in an online setting against other players, but then I'm just a private sort of person. Clearly online gaming through one's computer or video game system has caught on big time.

As it was explained to me, in the world of Halo 2, there's any number of characters wearing the Spartan armor -- arguably depending on how many players are running around an online environment, I assume. But the only one that gets to call himself Master Chief is the one in green. The others -- well, basically, you get to choose your own color scheme and name your own player.

Think of it as an online version of the Steel Brigade mail-order figure from G.I.Joe from the 1980's. The figure was technically called "Steel Brigade soldier", but the mail-order form let you fill out a complete profile for the character, including a personal code name. So the Steel Brigade figure you were sent would come with a file card with the code-name that you had given him. He's still a Steel Brigade Soldier, but his code-name could be anything.

Same principle applies with these Spartans. It's a soldier in the Spartan armor, but his name is whatever you choose for him.

Obviously Joyride Studios can't package these figures with individual code-names, anymore than Hasbro could advertise their Steel Brigade figure with every conceivable code-name that someone might've thought up, so Joyride simply named the "non-green" figures "Spartans".

So much for the explanation. How's the figure?

Very cool, as I expected. Orange is a new color of armor for these 8" scale HALO/HALO 2 figures. Granted, the HALO 2 series is just getting started, but there wasn't an orange figure in this scale in the first HALO line. There was a mini-figure of that color, however.

But the figure is not just orange. There are white stripes on the upper legs and lower arms, as well as the helmet, and white imprinted insignias on the shoulder armor, that looks more or less like a skull wearing a crown. This insignia is also printed rather small on the back of the figure.

The orange is actually a rather dark, rusty orange, but it still certainly qualifies as orange. Of course the figure has the gold chrome faceplate attached to his helmet. There's a faintly metallic look to the orange plastic that creates a cool effect when studied close-up.

Articulation is, as one would expect, superb. The figure moves at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

But Joyride is still having some problems with consistently tight parts. It took them a while to get past this with the original Halo figures. My red and clear Master Chiefs from that line are pretty floppy in some points. Looks like we've got the same problem, although thankfully to a somewhat lesser degree, with Halo 2. Even so, the right wrist on this figure is so loose that he can't even support the weight of his own weapon. The Orange Spartan comes with a Battle Rifle and MSG. It probably didn't help that in package, one weapon was wrapped so tightly around this hand with a clear rubber band that it might've been loosened just in the manual procedure to do that.

Still, that's not the only factor. One knee is a little on the floppy side, too. Worse, it's the opposite knee from the one that's a little floppy on my green Halo 2 Master Chief. I'll admit, I'm picky here, and it doesn't keep the figure from standing up or looking cool, but I still consider it a problem that needs to be looked into and corrected. They certainly did it with the original Halo figures. They need to do it here.

I realize that Joyride Studios is not Hasbro or Mattel. And on the whole, they're doing a superb job with these figures that have taken on a certain life of their own even beyond the video games. I've never even played either of the Halo video games. I don't own an Xbox, which the games are exclusive to, and I'll guarantee that my computer would have a fit if I tried to install the PC versions. But I know a cool concept and a cool series of action figures when I see them. Even so, given the popularity of these figures, Joyride needs to get just a little more consistency and tightness in their articulation, small company or not. A figure this well designed deserves to be just as well assembled.

The Orange Spartan is an exclusive to Suncoast, which really ticked off the guys at my local GameStop when I stopped in there after picking up this figure at Suncoast. But they shouldn't fret. They're getting the "battle-damaged" green Master Chief, and red and blue Spartans. I probably won't get these, as I'm not into battle-damaged figures. Here's hoping for standard versions of the red and blue, popular colors in the Halo world. I believe the forthcoming White Spartan is a general release, and the first entry of the second series of Halo 2 figures.

If you enjoy the world of HALO, then you'll want this figure. Even if you're not that into video games, but just appreciate really cool action figures, I recommend this guy. The entire Suncoast chain is carrying him, so if you don't see the orange guy at Suncoast, you can also check Sam Goody or Media Play for him. He definitely has my recommendation!