REVIEW: SAN DIEGO COMICON EXCLUSIVE HALO 3 GRIFBALL SPARTAN By Thomas Wheeler
The San Diego Comics Convention, or Comic-Con, as it is perhaps better known, has become, over the years, pretty much THE place for pop culture mavens. Hardly just a gathering of comics fans anymore, this mega-event brings in movie studios, promoting films that should be of interest to the crowds gathered; video game companies, comics publishers from the greats to people probably running their titles out of overworked computer printers -- and of course the major toy companies are present in force.
As much as the International Toy Fair is a place for companies such as Mattel, Hasbro, and everybody else to try to persuade the major retailers to carry their forthcoming product, the San Diego Comic-Con is an opportunity for these companies to meet with and showcase their products that will be of interest particularly to adult collectors, longtime fans of various concepts that may or may not have had their origins in the toy world, but certainly maintain a considerable presence there.
And, over a good number of years now, one of the main attractions in this realm is that most of the major toy companies offer a number of items that are exclusive to the Comic-Con. Although some remaining supplies might turn up at a later date, they're still billed as Comic-Con exclusives, and the majority of the inventory is likely to go out the door there.
One of the toy companies represented at the Convention was McFarlane Toys. As one might expect their exclusive pertained to their popular series of HALO figures, based on the HALO video game series.
Their 2009 exclusive was called "Grifball Spartan". Technically, the name didn't mean a whole lot to me. But there were two reasons that I wanted this figure, apart from having a pretty fair collection of Spartans as it is. Reason #1 -- the figure in question had orange armor. That's a color normally reserved for International Exclusives, although it does have a specific purpose within Grifball. Reason #2 - The figure was dressed in Recon Armor, which has not seen widespread use in the Halo action figure line.
The figure came packaged on a surprisingly narrow card, but that was no big deal as far as I was concerned. The Spartan within was posed in a running position, probably a pose assumed by football players on a regular basis (hey, and McFarlane does some NFL toys, as well!), and there was also a honking big weapon packed behind him that I sincerely hope is not part of this Grifball game. According to the package, this item is called a "Plasma Sword".
There were a few clues about this Grifball game on the package. For one thing, it had a logo that read "Red vs. Blue". Apart from being something of a legendary rivalry within the game,
Secondly, there was this text on the back of the package - "In 2554, the Red Army introduced Grifball to the world. By 2557, all other sports had been abandoned."
Well, I realized I needed to know something more about Grifball. And the best place to secure that information would be on the very specific Wiki-type site known as "HaloPedia".
It would seem that Grifball is a lot more popular than I would've expected. One of the things I was greeted with on the Grifball entry on HaloPedia was what amounted to a promotional poster, showing an Orange Spartan (!) carrying a Grifball across the landscape, with the phrase, "Catch the disease - GRIFBALL! It's Contagious!" written over it. It was practically a picture postcard.
According to HaloPedia: Grifball is a community created game-type made by Burnie Burns of Rooster Teeth.
(I have no idea what "Rooster Teeth" is, but that would explain the other logo on the package, which features the silhouette of a rooster and a set of wind-up chattering teeth.)
The game is played as an Assault variant, on a customized version of the Foundry map using Forge. (Grifbox, the new Sandbox Crypt variant) Players are given infinite usage of the Gravity Hammer and Energy Sword (which would explain why those weapons are included with this figure) as a means to attack and defend the other players in the game as they help their ball carrier plant the Bomb in the opposing team's goal. While the arena lacks any obstacles, the game becomes extremely intense and strategic as the game relies heavily on teamwork and a bit of luck. The arena lacks any sort of cover or obstacles, and is played like a Rooster Teeth-inspired game of Rugby. The game often results in players getting several multi-kills up to Killionaires and occasionally an Extermination, usually due to exploding Bombs. A well-timed Gravity Hammer strike during the start-of-round Bomb rush can also claim four or seven, for that matter lives at once.
On March 6th, it has been included in a special unranked "Double EXP" hopper in Halo 3 matchmaking. There is no set rotation for Grifball, although it has appeared many times afterward.
The origin of Grifball can be traced back to an interview with its creator: "In Season 4 of Red vs Blue, Sarge is taking pop-shots with a Sniper Rifle at his orange soldier Grif, whom he hates. He's having a great time and blurts out 'This is the best game since Grifball!' That was written about three years ago and we always wondered what kind of game Grifball would have been. That's why the ball carrier turns orange – everyone in the game is constantly trying to hammer-smash Grif and even if he scores, he explodes. Either way, Sarge wins."
And, that explains the Orange armor. Rather glad I decided to research this.
Grifball is a simple game, akin to modern-day rugby. Two teams of three-four players square off in a simple arena in which each team has a goal. The object is to take the ball in the middle of the court and put it in the other team's goal.
1. Scoring a goal earns one point and ends the round.
2. Each match consists of 9 rounds, with no time limit.
3. Each player has a gravity hammer and an energy sword (secondary). The player has infinite ammo of both weapons.
4. Damage is set to 200% with player health set to 10%. One direct hit will kill a player.
5. Dead players respawn in three seconds at their own goal.
6. The ball carrier has a 2x Overshield, 150% speed, 150% damage resistance after a period of time in which these charge up, and turns orange, like Grif.
7. Friendly players can hurt each other. Making use of the radar encouraged.
8. In the unlikely event that a player finds themselves thrown outside of the arena (beyond the wall), teleporters situated beyond the playing field have been provided. These teleporters will drop you outside the map, killing you instantly. You will respawn back at your goal. Play is not suspended when a player goes out of bounds. It is the player's duty to return to play.
9. If a ball carrier goes out of bounds, they must return to play within 30 seconds or they forfeit the entire match. If they leave the ball beyond the wall, it will reset within 15 seconds. Play is not suspended while the ball or ball carrier is out of bounds.
Then we have the armor design given to this figure. It's called Recon Armor, and here's it's background, courtesy of HaloPedia once again.
The Mark VI MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor/R variant, colloquially known as Recon Armor, is a type of United Nations Space Command body armor.
The Recon armor was developed parallel to the Scout Armor in the B5D Ordnance Testing Facility in Swanbourne, Perth, Western Australia. The main purpose of the Recon Armor was to create armor with stealth capabilities and with little or no loss of endurance, specifically by reducing its IR signature, reflective surfaces, and Cherenkov radiation emission.
The helmet has large, rounded features, with a rise along the top of the head with two black triangles pointing out the front of the head on each side of the rise. It has a thin visor and an area of black alloy beneath it that covers the nose, surrounded by armor. The helmet is largely angular with a pair of what look like breathers, on each side of the mouth and a small indent on the forehead.
The shoulder pauldrons look like a more angular version of the EVA, with a box-like shoulder piece and a section jutting out and down the arm, at a 90-degree angle from the shoulder piece.
The chest piece is similar to the Mark VI but instead of being made up of smooth plates reflecting the human body, it is more angular and flat like the other parts of the armor and reflects it with a few small changes. This chest piece like all armor permutations, is an attachment on to the standard Mark VI armor.
This figure is the first even semi-general release of this version of Spartan Armor. Previously, McFarlane Toys had produced Red, Blue, and "Active Camo" Recons, which they awarded through their Halo Points program. I'm not entirely sure that a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive counts as "general release", but it's the first time I'd seen it.
So, how's the figure? Extremely cool. One thing about the basic Spartan design, regardless of which variant you might happen to have or what color the armor is -- this is a highly-detailed action figure based on a very impressive armor design that manages to look both futuristic and reasonably plausible all at the same time. The overall ingrained detail is remarkable.
The orange color and the relatively rare armor makes him stand out that much more. Also of significance is the figure's left hand, which unlike the "semi-clenched" hands of most Halo Spartans -- the better to hold their weapons with -- this figure's left hand is more outstretched -- the better to hold the Grifball with.
The shoulder pauldrons are, in my opinion, some of the most complex I have yet to see on any Spartan variant, and they have a fair amount of painted detail -- some silver trim as well as a bit of black. I really like the helmet design, as well. It's very distinctive.
The orange color is impressive, too. It's a somewhat light orange, but if you get too deep with orange, it starts to look red, and there's enough of those running around. The orange is not so pale that it's going to be confused with gold, either.
Most of the paint details are well done, but there's a few areas that could have been a little neater. This line has suffered from that here and there, but not as badly as some. Mostly it seems to plague the helmets, chestplates, and shoulder pauldrons. I'm sure a good set of paint stencils exist for the main body, and can be used repeatedly for many different variants.
Of course, the figure is superbly well articulated. The package boasts 26 moving parts, and that readily includes head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, leg swivel, knees, ankles, and the front of the feet. Generally speaking, these figures move fairly readily, but caution should be taken on any parts that seem stuck, especially the wrists, which are fairly narrow.
It's worth mentioning that for a time, the Recon Armor was believed to be exclusive to employees of Bungie, the game developers, and was only awarded to exemplary employees for use in the game. This has since proven to not be the case. There are ways to access the Recon Armor within the Halo game, through certain accomplishments along the way.
The Grifball itself is a green sphere that looks somewhat smaller than a soccer ball or volleyball. It's proportionately bigger than a baseball, but not shaped like a football. Frankly, it looks like it'd be a real hassle to handle. It's also clearly not a typical "ball", either, need it be said. It has ridges and little mechanical widgets on it.
The figure has a small device strapped to his right hip. Honestly, I'm not sure what the heck this thing is.
The other two accessories are the immense Plasma Sword, or "Energy Sword", as HaloPedia calls it, and the smaller but impressive-sounding Gravity Hammer.
So, what's my final word here? I like him. Cool armor variant, cool armor color, and a reasonably amusing background, even if you've never played the Halo 3 game or seen a single episode of this "Red vs. Blue" -- which admittedly, I haven't. But I know a cool action figure when I see one, and the Grifball Spartan is certainly that.
Now, I'm not going to say he's going to be easy for you to find. He was, as stated at the top of this review, an exclusive to the San Diego Comic-Con. So he's not exactly readily available. But if you can find a way to track one down, he's definitely worth it.
The San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive HALO GRIFBALL SPARTAN definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!