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By Thomas Wheeler

I'm not terribly good at video games. Never have been. Not sure why. But that's not to say I don't enjoy some of the concepts that start out as video games, and any number of them have gone on to have a significant presence well beyond their video game roots. Comics, movies, animated series, TV shows, T-shirts, you name it. You don't need to have played the video game to be aware of characters and concepts like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Angry Birds, Mario, or Sonic the Hedgehog, just to name a few.

Or, for that matter, HALO. This science-fiction military combat concept has been around for a little over ten years, and has been massively popular since its introduction, with quite a few video games spun out of the series at this point, not to mention comic books, novels, and while there has yet to be a theatrically-released movie, there was finally a live-action production that was ultimately released on DVD, titled "Forward Unto Dawn". Definitely overdue, to put it mildly. I still think there needs to be a major motion picture.

And, of course, there are action figures. For quite a few years now, the Halo action figure line has been produced by McFarlane Toys, and they've done an abundantly impressive job with it. Strangely, though, the figures have become increasingly difficult to find. It's been months since I've seen any significant Halo presence at the expected retailers, such as Target or Walmart, and even Toys "R" Us doesn't seem to have much. This, despite the fact that I knew that more Halo figures, based on the most recent game, HALO 4, were in the works.

So where did I finally turn some of them up? A pharmacy -- Walgreens, to be precise. The latest series of figures has been packaged on much slimmer cards, for whatever reason, but the figures are as cool as ever, and Walgreens even got an exclusive out of it. That was a special edition of a Spartan CIO. But there was another figure that I was also interested in, a new version of the SPARTAN SCOUT, in decidedly distinctive orange armor. I came across him recently, and this review will take a look at him.

Let's consider the concept behind Halo 4, and then get a few specifics on the Spartan Scout.

Halo 4 is the seventh installment in the bestselling Halo franchise for the Xbox 360. A teaser trailer shown at Microsoft's E3 Media Briefing on June 6th, 2011 confirmed that Halo 4 is to be the first installment in the Reclaimer Trilogy. Set four and a half years after the events of Halo 3, Halo 4 will continue the story of John-117 and Cortana left abandoned on the remains of the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn. The two survivors drift toward the mysterious world of Requiem and the ancient evil within. Halo 4 is the first game developed by 343 Industries, the management team in charge of the Halo franchise, and will be published by Microsoft Studios; it was released worldwide on November 6, 2012.

Set in the aftermath of Halo 3, Master Chief returns to confront his own destiny and face an ancient evil that threatens the fate of the entire universe. Halo 4 marks the start of a new trilogy that begins with its release in 2012.

Halo 4 marks the return of John-117 as a playable protagonist after three Halo games focusing on different sets of characters. Having been lost in space for five years after the finale of Halo 3, John-117 and Cortana, adrift aboard the wreckage of the aft section of the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn, find themselves near Requiem, the Forerunner shield world first seen in the Legendary ending of Halo 3.

In ancient times, the human race was once a great interstellar empire. Fleeing from the Flood and destroying any world tainted with their presence, they came into contact with the Forerunner ecumene. Ignoring their warnings about the dangers posed by the parasite, the Forerunners led by the Didact defeated and imprisoned humanity upon their homeworld. Weakened by the struggle, the Forerunners were easy prey to the resurgent Flood. Despite this, the Didact planned to use the Composer, a device capable of transferring organic consciousness to software format to escape the Flood's infection. But the process was flawed, and the humans used as test subjects were corrupted, becoming fit only to function as the AIs of Promethean war-frames. This failure necessitated the firing of the Halo Array. Opposing the Didact for her own reasons, the Librarian provides John a gift: a medical treatment to counteract the Forerunner's devolution of the human genome, and a means to resist the Didact's plan to enslave the human race once again.

Halo 4 shows how humanity and the UNSC have adapted to the post-war world, particularly how they have co-opted Forerunner technology into their military devices and assets. The Covenant returns in the game, in the form of a remnant faction, consisting of Sangheili and their former Unggoy and Kig-Yar subordinates still loyal to the tenets of the Covenant religion. However, the Covenant are taking a backseat to an entirely new antagonist, the Prometheans, an elite class of Forerunner Warriors and their legendary leader known as the Didact, which has been said to be a "threat beyond anything that Master Chief has faced before." The subject of Cortana's ongoing rampancy, a year beyond her ideal functional lifespan, is also thoroughly and prominently detailed in Halo 4.

Halo 4 begins on July 20th, 2557, four years and seven months after the armistice ending the Human-Covenant War. Cortana, laying silent for years, notices that the ship's intruder alarms have activated and attempts to wake John-117 from cryo-sleep. Cortana notifies him that in his sleep, she rewrote the firmware of his MJOLNIR Mark VI armor, upgrading the HUD, armor capabilities, while giving a new overall appearance. With alarms ringing and the intruders spreading to multiple decks, John slips Cortana's chip back into his neural interface and upon opening a sealed hatch, unpressurized rooms rip him from the deck and send him into the vacuum. After climbing up an elevator shaft, suddenly, a Sangheili swordsman comes charging at the Spartan. After a brief close quarters engagement with the soldier, he kicks him down the shaft to his death. John questions the AI construct on why his once-formidable allies have attacked them, to which she has no answer. After fighting the Sangheili and their "repatriated" Unggoy subordinates, John makes his way to the aft observation deck, viewing a large Covenant fleet surrounding the Forward Unto Dawn while multiple boarding crafts dock with the heavily damaged aft section of the frigate.

John and Cortana subsequently make a crash-landing on the Forerunner world Requiem, entering the inner planetary shell via an entrance in the Dyson sphere-like superstructure. Recovering a Warthog, Master Chief and Cortana vow to make their way back to Earth in order to find a cure for Cortana's escalating Rampancy. They set out to find a way to contact the UNSC, circumventing the powerful jamming field surrounding the world.

Fighting through numerous Covenant hunting parties, Master Chief is attacked by advanced Forerunner defense drones which Cortana identifies as Prometheans. Evading or destroying pursuit, John attempts to warn the approaching UNSC Infinity of the dangerous artificially-induced gravity field that had caused the Forward Unto Dawn to crash.

After disabling two control nodes, it becomes clear to John that a great threat had once been imprisoned within Requiem. The Didact, the Forerunners' greatest warrior and the individual responsible for firing the Halo Array 100,000 years ago, remains in suspended animation within a Cryptum. Easily disabling John with his powerful abilities, he declares the return of the Forerunners as the galaxy's rulers and saviors. Humanity remains weak and unworthy in his eyes of inheriting the Mantle, a view rejected by his wife, the Librarian. Having always revered the Forerunners as gods, the Covenant quickly swear alliance to the Didact and his armies. The Didact views the Covenant as mere primitives, but permits them to serve his cause, to prevent the ascension of the human race to galactic prominence.

Narrowly escaping the collapsing command center, the Chief and Cortana returns to the planet's surface only to find their warning to the Infinity came too late. The warship crashes more than 70 kilometers away, with a massive force of Covenant and Prometheans closing on their position.

Evading capture, John is successful in regrouping with a group of SPARTAN-IVs and Marines led by Commander Thomas Lasky. Recognizing the Chief immediately, Lasky asks John and Cortana to clear a landing zone so that Infinity's ground forces can fall back to the ship which has fallen under siege. Commandeering a Scorpion tank, John leads the attack to the crippled vessel alongside Commander Sarah Palmer's Spartans. Using the UNSC's latest weapon, the Mantis exoskeleton, John rallies a force of nearby Marines and regains control of the ship's interior. After reinitializing the secondary MAC guns and missile batteries, the tide turns in the UNSC's favor. Two CCS-class cruisers and dozens of dropships are destroyed in the artillery barrage, while the Didact's Cryptum is forced to retreat.

With a momentary lull in the fighting, John is called to a strategy meeting with Andrew Del Rio, Captain of the Infinity. Skeptical of the threat of the Prometheans, Rio orders an immediate attack on a Forerunner gravity well generator preventing the ship from leaving. A strike force of Spartans led by John is deployed along with a Mammoth-class ultra heavy ground vehicle supporting the attack. Facing daunting odds, the UNSC is able to defeat a large armored strike force of Covenant and Prometheans and they disable the gravity beam. Before reaching his objective, John is confronted with a vision from the deceased Librarian, who warns him of the Didact's true plans.

Regrouping aboard the Infinity, Captain Del Rio dismisses the threat of the Prometheans and prepares the ship to depart the system. Defying direct orders, John takes the increasingly unstable Cortana and departs the Infinity. Armed with a Pelican gunship provided by Commander Lasky, John launches several attacks on support pillars providing the Didact's Cryptum with shields and power, with the goal of preventing him from leaving the planet and attacking Earth and other colonies.

This attempt ultimately proves unsuccessful, as the Didact leaves Requiem aboard his vessel, escorted by a flotilla of Covenant ships. Stowing away aboard a Covenant ship, Master Chief pursues the Forerunner to Ivanoff, a UNSC research base orbiting Halo Installation 03 where the Composer is kept. Dr. Sandra Tillson, a lead researcher aboard the base, helps guide John to the artifact amidst a swarm of Covenant attackers. Despite reaching the artifact first, the Didact is successful in obtaining the Composer, tearing it out of the station's hull with a gravity beam. Testing the weapon, the Composer burns the crew of the station to ash, assimilating their knowledge to power additional war machines. The Master Chief survives, thanks to the genetic enhancements provided by the Librarian.

With the Composer in the Didact's possession, the Forerunner is poised to deal a deathblow to the UNSC, and by extension humanity. Racing back to Earth aboard a Broadsword fighter stowed on the outer hull of the Didact's ship, the Master Chief is surprised to find the Infinity and a UNSC fleet waiting for him. Flying below the Forerunner vessel's shields, John is able to destroy the ship's point defense guns, allowing Infinity to bombard its hull. Entering through a breach in the armor, John fights his way to the Didact's location.

Despite their best efforts, the Didact begins to fire on Earth with the Composer, annihilating New Phoenix, URNA. Armed with a HAVOK portable nuclear device, John confronts the Didact once again. While John is unable to hurt the Forerunner with conventional attacks, Cortana, nearing the end of her life, disables the Didact's armor and immobilizes him with hard light bindings. With the last of his strength, John uses a pulse grenade to destroy the Forerunner's armor and detonates the nuclear bomb manually.

With the last of her power, Cortana is able to teleport John away from the vessel before it was destroyed and meets with John for one last time inside a bubble of hard light. Overcome with emotion, John remarks that he was supposed to have protected her. Cortana insists that they were supposed to protect each other, and did. Using her hard light body, Cortana is able to actually touch John for the first time, which she says that she's been waiting to do for a very long time. Smiling and seeming at peace, Cortana welcomes John home, and then fades away completely, dying. The Master Chief drifts in space amidst the debris of the Didact's ship for a time before being recovered by a UNSC search-and-rescue team. Later, John speaks with (now Captain) Lasky about the loss of his closest friend and companion. Aboard the Infinity, John rejoins Palmer and the other Spartans, preparing for their inevitable next battle, and his MJOLNIR Mark VI armor is removed for the first time in years.

The Didact, seemingly surviving the destruction of his ship, gives a speech in the battle's aftermath, swearing his vengeance against humanity will continue, and he will see the Forerunners return to power at any cost. Meanwhile, a UNSC team investigates the city of New Phoenix, where the Composer's energy beam was directed; although the infrastructure of vehicles and buildings are completely untouched, its former human inhabitants are gone.

While their defeat at Earth proved a set back for the Promethean/Covenant alliance, it did not result in their defeat. Months later, the Infinity returns to Requiem with a complement of Spartans, determined to reclaim the planet. This tour forms the background for the Spartan Ops mode.

As to the modern Spartans, it is the fifth and newest branch of the United Nations Space Command, responsible for command of special operations undertaken by the Third and Fourth generations of augmented soldiers. This branch was established in the years following the apocalyptic Human-Covenant War on the orders of Admiral Margaret Parangosky, Commander-in-Chief, Naval Intelligence. Its activities across the galaxy are classified much like their predecessor organizations.

The beginnings of the fourth generation of the venerable Spartan programs began shortly before the end of hostilities in the Human-Covenant War. Admiral Parangosky, who had signed off on the previous second and third generations out of necessity, believed that the kidnapping of children for years of harsh training, especially the flash cloning of covert replacements, was unethical. Because of this, the elderly director of Naval Intelligence ordered that future Spartans would be consenting adults, all of whom handpicked by Beta-5 Division for their exceptional service during the war, mainly from special operations units from across the armed forces; the only other supersoldier program to use adult volunteers were the ORION soldiers of Naval Special Warfare Command, who were created to fight the growing Insurrection in the Outer Colonies (Ironically, the Fours would come to serve in a similar capacity, fighting resurgent colonial rebellions.)

Originally, Parangosky was to give command of the SPARTAN-IV program and ultimately Spartan branch to the Army veteran and ONI confidant Colonel James Ackerson - the mastermind behind the third generation program which trained, augmented, and graduated nearly a thousand Spartans into her command between 2531 and 2552. Serving under him, presumably in a scientific role to enhance the augmentation procedures and spearhead new technologies, would be Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, MD, PhD, matriarch of the second generation program. However, neither would come to serve the SPARTAN-IVs; Colonel Ackerson was executed as a war prisoner aboard the Triumphant Declaration following his defeat at Mare Erythraeum in November 2552 while Dr. Halsey became trapped within the Forerunner shield world Trevelyan, later to be exiled to Ivanoff Station orbiting Installation 03 and then onboard the UNSC Infinity by Admiral Parangosky.

Due to the overwhelming successes of CHRYSANTHEMUM and its near-zero mortality rate, it is likely that all fourth-generation candidates survived as well. It is unknown how many Spartans have been augmented with fourth-generation protocols, or the number of distinct training classes, but it is noted that a number of candidates were given gene manipulation therapy prior to 2552. Training was conducted in various places, particularly the virtual reality deck aboard the highly advanced warship Infinity, then located in the Oort cloud beyond the Sol system. The surviving SPARTAN-III supersoldiers were requested by Admiral Parangosky and Naval Intelligence for reassignment to Spartan branch in early 2553. The active SPARTAN-IIs, the iconic legends of the Class of 2525, were given the choice of "pulling together" the remaining SPARTAN-IIIs and integrating them into the SPARTAN-IV program, but it is unknown whether or not the SPARTAN-IIs themselves were asked to join the command or if they did.

Spartans wear the MJOLNIR GEN2 Powered Assault Armor, which is the newest generation of the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor, specifically designed for the SPARTAN IV Program, and introduced following the conclusion of the Human-Covenant war of 2525-2552.

This armor was not designed or created by Dr. Catherine Halsey, but was instead created by the Materials Group. It is produced by dozens of manufacturers, both private and militarized. Aesthetically, the second generation of MJLONIR armor differs from first generation most noticeably in regards to its streamlined edges, pronounced power pack design and increased customization options.

Unlike the previous installments of MJOLNIR armor, the ceramic-metallic alloy that composes the main armor plates is much more versatile, and can be attached to the metal-alloy under-suit within a matter of seconds (as opposed to the original MK. IV armor, which took SPARTAIN-IIs several hours and a team of technicians to don). One of the most drastic physical changes between GEN2 and GEN1 MJOLNIR armor is the under-suit. It seems that SPARTAN IV personnel wear part of their under-suit at all times so they can be readied for battle more quickly. GEN2 armor boasts a more streamlined and form-fitting metal-alloy under-suit with the sheathing of the neck now extending until just under the jaw. Whether this design modification was implemented in regards to pressurizing the suit in vacuum is unknown. The outermost layer of the under-suit has also been modified, now resembling a layer of scales.

With regard to armor customization, the second generation of MJOLNIR armor has a much greater degree of modularity, with alternative helmets, shoulders, chestplates, legs, forearms and visors available. Moreover, SPARTAN-IVs are able to tune their armor using Tactical Packages and Support Upgrades to better suit operational requirements.

The MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor/S variant, more commonly known as Scout Armor, or simply as Scout, is a type of United Nations Space Command body armor. A variant of the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor, the Scout Armor uses advanced materials to give it stealth properties, while the 'R' variant reduces the IR signature and radiation.

The SCOUT variant is available for MJOLNIR Mark V, Mark VI and GEN2 armor systems.

The Scout and Recon projects were run as parallel projects intended to develop a single variant of the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor with stealth capabilities and no impact on endurance; however, the SCOUT variant relies heavily on highly advanced materials. It was tested in the Office of Naval Intelligence's Beta-5 Division Ordnance Testing Facility at Swanbourne, Perth, in Western Australia.

I know that's a lot of information, courtesy of the Web Site Halo Nation, but believe me -- it's a summary.

So, how's the figure? Really excellent. I haven't always been impressed with everything that McFarlane Toys has produced, but they do a really outstanding job with their Halo line.

The Spartan Scout stands about 5-1/2" in height, standard for the modern Halo figures. It sort of puts them into a scale of their own. No other action figure line is really in this particular size range. They're either smaller, like G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Marvel Universe, or the Power Rangers of the past few years, or they're taller, like Marvel Legends, DC Universe, Masters of the Universe, or WWE. So the Halo Spartans aren't likely to get high marks in "playing well with others".

This Spartan Scout has orange armor. The color spectrum for Halo armors has been all over the map almost since its inception. There have been several shades of green, not to mention red, blue, white, steel gray, and even purple and pink! Now, unless the alien enemies that the Spartans have fought over the years find a warrior in pink armor to be somehow intimidating, that takes some guts to dress like that and head off into battle.

This is not the first time an orange Spartan of some sort has turned up. There have been others in past years. When the Halo line was so expansive that it seemed that practically every retailer this side of Office Max had an exclusive (and if there was such a thing as a Spartan Accountant they probably would have), one of the ways to create exclusives was by recoloring the armor. And orange, for whatever reason, was largely reserved for international exclusives that had dedicated Halo collectors screaming into their Xbox controllers, given the odds of ever owning some of those exclusives.

The armor is astoundingly high-tech and complex in design. These aren't Clone Troopers. The armor is very layered, very detailed, with a lot of visible parts and pieces and assorted little plate lines and such that would be enough to give Tony Stark a headache, and probably did give one to the sculptors. The sculpted detail on this figure is really incredible.

Interesting thing about the orange coloration. I've got several Halo 4 Spartans in a number of colors in my collection. This may be the first once I've got whose armor color is light enough to really study all of the sculpted detail up close and really see just how detailed it in fact is. And it's pretty mind-boggling.

The best way to tell one Spartan type from another is the design of the helmet. The Scout helmet is fairly close to that of Master Chief, the main character of the series, in that it has a slight brim over the visor, and the visor is a single piece across the front of the face near the eyes. However, in the Scout's case, it's narrower than Master Chief's, and the lower portion of the helmet, which tends to angle outward somewhat, is an entirely different design. Interestingly, the visor is colored silver. That's a bit of a departure from previous Halo games, where most Spartan visors tended to be gold.

Not a lot of the black undersuit is visible on this particular Spartan. There's some black below the visor on the helmet, but that's part of the helmet design, not the undersuit. The undersuit, which has a certain amount of armored protection look to it itself, is visible around the elbows, partially around the sides of the torso and upper legs, knees, and ankles.

The orange armor itself looks very thick and highly protective, along with being very high-tech. The gloves are interesting in that there are individual bits of orange armor on the backs of the hand and on each finger joint. That must have been fun for the painters.

The figure has been given a very slight and very watered-down black wash, barely perceptible, to resemble battle weathering. I normally don't care for this sort of thing, but it's extremely minor on this particular figure -- and not entirely inappropriate to the concept -- and in this case it serves as much as anything to bring out the sculpted detail a little better.

There are some other painted details, including a bit of silver striping on the lower torso, and a few little sculpted areas have been given some highlights. However, there are several impressive insignias imprinted onto the figure, including emblems on the top front of the helmet and near the top of the chest, as well as a fairly large -- larger than I'm used to seeing on these figures, anyway -- UNSC logo at the bottom of the chest. These have all been imprinted in white, and very neatly.

The figure's package boasts that the Spartan Scout has twenty-seven points of articulation, and those would include the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, mid-torso, nicely worked into the armor design, legs, including a swivel, knees, ankles, and the fronts of the feet.

The Spartan Scout comes with a single weapon, which although not described on the package, I was able to track down as a new Sticky Detonator weapon; previously only available with the Master Chief in the UNSC Cryotube boxed set. Interesting name -- and way too many bad jokes are possible with it. I'll just say that it's a relatively small, gun-looking thing, nicely made, and leave it at that.

There's a brief profile on the side of the package which reads: "Favored by Class-8 FDO (Forward Deployed Operators), SCOUT-class armor contains the most capable covert anti-tracking system and shroud-induction packages available for use. Its success behind enemy lines is unquestionable."

So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely pleased to have found this figure. I'm glad Walgreens had him, but I do wish I would see Halo return in greater supply to retailers where one expects more of a toy department. Granted, there's several action figure lines I could say that about. It's getting harder to find decent action figure supplies of any sort, at least in person.

Fortunately, I did find this figure in person, and I'm glad to have him. The Halo 4 Spartan Scout is very well made, outstandingly detailed, and with a seldom used color scheme that serves to make him stand out well in a crowd, and bring out his detail. I'm certain that any Halo fan will be pleased to own him, even if he's a little tricky to find.

The ORANGE SPARTAN SCOUT from HALO 4 definitely has my highest recommendation!