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By Thomas Wheeler

Just when I thought I had them all. Even though I don't own an XBox, and as such have never played the video game HALO (and probably wouldn't be especially good at it anyway), I DO like the basic design of the core character known as "Master Chief".

According to the information on the back of the toy package, this is the description of Master Chief: "Born for battle, bred for war, humanity's last hope for survival in the face of the deadly Covenant onslaught is the warrior known only as 'The Master Chief'.

"A product of the secret SPARTAN-II project, the Master Chief is the ultmate soldier, trained from an early age in weapons, tactica, and command. He is augmented with a neural interface that connects him to his MJOLNIR Mark V Assault Armor - power armor tha costs as much as a small starship - giving him superhuman strength, stamina, and AI capabilities.

"The Chief is a master of all weapons, human and Covenant, and an adept pilot of all vehicles, from Warthogs to Banshees."

There's certainly no denying the popularity of the game. HALO has probably helped sell more XBox units than anything else. There's a series of paperback novels available based on the concept, and why in the world there isn't a comic book and a movie (or a TV series) is beyond me. The sequel, HALO 2, has had fans clamoring in anticipation like no video game has in years (and yes, there's a toy line).

For myself, I've made it a point to collect the various versions of the 8" MASTER CHIEF figure, produced by Joyride Studios. It's well made, nicely designed, well-articulated, and really, I've tended to feel that the overall design of the Master Chief is an entirely plausible take on what a future soldier's protective body armor might actually look like. There's nothing garish or outlandish here. The design is a basic, fundamental, logical approach to armor, that manages to throw in just enough attitude to come across as an immensely cool final design.

As one might expect in a video game, there have been numerous color versions of the Master Chief. The first version, predictably, coming from a video game with certain military roots, was Green. Subsequent color variations included Red, Blue, White, Black, and a special mail-order Clear figure that was in such limited supply that I didn't get my mail-in offer in on time and had to get it from an eBay auction.

I assumed this was the complete set. The Black one was the most recent Master Chief, and I believed that there would be a short break while Joyride geared up the HALO 2 figures.

So I was in EB Games recently. There's a medium-sized one in Tucson Mall, near where I live, but they don't have much in the way of action figures. There's a small rack of McFarlane Sports figures, but not much else. And then I looked down. The last two shelves, partly obscured by a shipping box -- what the heck?!

A COBALT MASTER CHIEF!? Moreover, packed on a card that very distinctly read "EB Games Exclusive". These didn't look like an especially recent release. In fact, the back of the card showed the assortment that included the White Master Chief, which preceded the Black. How the heck had I missed this guy?

What HALO calls "Cobalt", I'd be inclined to call "Steel Blue". It's about the same color as a moderately faded pair of blue jeans. Overall, it's quite impressive, and strictly from a military point of view, just about as plausible as either the green or the black versions.

The figure features superb articulation, poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivels, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, knee swivels, and ankles. Fortunately, the articulation is nicely tight, as well. For whatever undetermined reason, some of the early Master Chiefs, especially the first-release Green, the Red, and the Clear, tend to be rather loose.

The figure comes with a nice assortment of weapons, including a Sniper Rifle and a Pistol, as well as a clearly alien weapon called a Needler (which certainly looks the part), which is exclusive to this special version of the Master Chief.

If you enjoy the HALO video game, and have been collecting the 8" Master Chief figures, then I encourage you to track down an EB Games near you, and add the Cobalt Master Chief to your collection. He's a very cool version of HALO's main character!

But I can't help wonder if there are any other store-exclusive colors out there...