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By Thomas Wheeler

You know, it occurred to me that, with all of the 8" HALO Master Chief figures I've reviewed -- Green, Red, Blue, Clear, White -- I've never really given any sort of description or overview of the HALO video game.

That's probably because I don't own an XBox, which the game is exclusive to. There's also a PC version, but I doubt very much that my machine would be up to it.

So, since this new Black Master Chief is the last of the figures to be manufactured for the HALO series, what with HALO 2 on the horizon, this is probably my last chance to outline the game. So I enlisted the aid of a friend of mine, Terry Dizard -- who does own an XBox and is much more adept at video games than I am -- to provide a brief description of HALO, which I have adapted here.

It is a time when humans are at war with an alien race called the Covenant. You play a character called Master Chief, a cryogenically frozen soldier who is defrosted by his commander when their assault carrier comes under attack, and is subsequently boarded by Covenant troops.

Master Chief, according to the information on the toy package, is a product of the secret SPARTAN-II project. He is the ultimate soldier, trained from an early age in weapons, tactics, and command. He is augmented with a neural interface that connects him to the MJOLNIR Mark V Assault Armor, giving him superhuman strength, stamina, and other capabilities. Terry describes the Master Chief as a sort of "Techno-SEAL", referring to the Navy SEALs, pretty much the best in the business.

The assault carrier crash-lands on a mysterious ringed planet known as "Halo", hence the name of the game. From there, it's a "first person shooter" game, as you continue in combat against the Covenant troops.

The game, created by a software company called Bungie, has been so successful in promoting the XBox, that Microsoft, the company that makes the XBox, bought the Bungie company. I'm not sure if I'd consider that flattery or not.

It's worth mentioning that the HALO video game is apparently a rather violent piece of work, as there is a warning on the back of the toy package that reads, "This action figure is based on an v rated product." In short, while the figure might be enjoyed by all ages, you should use more discretion with the game.

The HALO Master Chief action figure -- indeed all of the HALO action figures, and there is quite a collection at this point, is produced by Joyride Studios, a division of the RC2 company. Interestingly, a sculptor credit has been given this time around. The Master Chief figure was sculpted by someone named Ching Tung Wah, and this person did an excellent job with it, too.

The new Black Master Chief is the last in the line of 8" Master Chief figures. According to the description of an alternate version of this figure which was available online (a battle-damaged version, apparently), the Black Master Chief serves as a sniper as much as anything. Granted, the different colors of armor that have been available are little more than players' choice in the game, although there's apparently a rather intense "Red vs. Blue" rivalry out there someplace.

Decades of advanced technology, and we're still playing Summer Camp Color War...

As I've said in previous Master Chief reviews, the overall design is excellent. It looks at once futuristic and yet somehow entirely plausible. The articulation is extensive, and of particular note is that the Black Master Chief is very tightly articulated. This is worth noting given how loosely articulated some of the earlier Master Chiefs have been. Joyride Studios claims that haven't made any significant alterations to the molds, but I'm not so sure. My Red Master Chief is downright floppy in a few areas. Not so with this guy.

That's not to put down the Red Master Chief. I'm glad to have all of them. And my Black Master Chief isn't perfect. One leg seems to be very slightly longer than the other -- an error of assembly, I assume. I can get him to stand up straight, but one leg and foot need to be very slightly bent to do it. Further proof that, unfortunately, quality control in the toy world is an increasing myth, and I don't just point to Joyride when I say that. A lot of the big boys are just as guilty.

Still, it's a relatively minor point on an otherwise excellent figure, and the Black Master Chief is an excellent figure. The armor portions of his outfit are a metallic black, while some other areas of his uniform, which have been black on all versions of this figure, are more of a flat black, and there is a visible difference, especially if you take the figure outdoors or into other bright light.

He doesn't come with any really unusual weapons, such as the White Master Chief's flamethrower or the Blue Master Chief's alien-looking weapon, but the weapons he does come with are suitably impressive, including the bazooka-looking thing that has the letters "SPNKr" stenciled on either side of it. For the imaginative, that can spell out a pretty -- um -- descriptive word. And not an entirely inappropriate one, either.

The Black Master Chief also comes with a rifle, and a small, rather alien-looking gizmo that I'm honestly not certain what the heck it is.

There's no question that HALO is a popular game. Anticipation over the forthcoming sequel is rampant. There is a series of paperback novels -- rather an interesting sideline given that I would think there's some question over how much the average video game addict actually reads, but if these books encourage them to do so, then I'm all for it. And of course there is this extensive line of action figures. I'm honestly surprised there haven't been comic books or a movie based on this concept. It seems tailor-made for such venues.

Do I recommend the Black Master Chief? Definitely. He's certainly a very cool entry in the line. The figure is mostly black, with really only the gold-chrome helmet visor standing out. This makes him look that much meaner, and a formidable fighter and opponent. And if you have the other Master Chiefs, you'll certainly want to complete your collection.

So, what will the HALO 2 Master Chief figure be like? Don't know. Joyride has stated that they plan to maintain the same level of detail, and bring in even more articulation, so it should be interesting. Not sure when it comes out, but I look forward to it. Meanwhile, I'm glad to have the Black Master Chief to complete my collection!