REVIEW: HALO 4 SPARTAN SOLDIER
I've said this before, but it never ceases to amaze me that with all of the hundreds of video game concepts that have come upon the scene since the technology existed, that any of them manage to rise to the top and become pop culture icons. And yet any number of them have. Mario. Sonic. Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter. And a relative newcomer to that list of legends, but no less deserving of the status -- HALO.
There have been multiple Halo games in the 10+ year history of the concept, the most recent of which is HALO 4. (And yes, there have been more than four games...) I tend to believe that one of the best ways to evaluate how popular a video game concept has become, is how far is stretches beyond its core concept. Certainly the other concepts I listed in the last paragraph have succeeded in this respect. They've all had not only video games, but TV shows, movies, comic books, and -- action figures.
HALO hasn't had a TV show or a movie yet -- which I still find inexplicable. But it has had a direct-to-video release of a series of animated shorts, a well-received line of novels, comic books from Marvel Comics, and some truly impressive action figures from McFarlane Toys.
With HALO 4, there are new characters, along with the return of the most iconic character in the concept, Master Chief himself, as well as a host of new Spartan divisions, with their own respective armor designs. One of these is the new SPARTAN SOLDIER, and it's the figure of him that I'll be reviewing here.
Let's consider the background of HALO 4, as well as the history and current status of the SPARTAN program within the concept, and the Spartan Soldiers, thanks to some help from a "Wikia" site based on Halo, and then we'll have a look at this cool new action figure.
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 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 continues the story of Master Chief 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 is published by Microsoft Studios. The official summary for the game states: "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..."
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 Halo 3.
The story of Halo 4 has been described as being heavily focused on mystery, exploration and discovery, as well as being grand in scope and scale. Forerunner elements are featured extensively. The game also 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 is designed to be part of a three-game arc from the beginning. In addition, 343 Industries is aiming for more complete connectivity among all of their future media than that of the original trilogy; the Forerunner Saga and Kilo-Five Trilogy novels, and the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary terminals have been stated as "definitely" having "resonant connections" to Halo 4's story. The third and final Forerunner Saga novel, Silentium, was expected to be released on March 19th, 2013. Frank O'Connor noted that Silentium will be released after Halo 4 for "specific strategic reasons" likely referring to the connectivity of the game and the novel.
A live action series, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, provides a backstory for several characters set to appear in the game; this series consists of five episodes totaling 75 minutes. The Halo 4 Collectors Edition includes a 90 minute extended cut of the series. So I guess Halo got something of a series after all -- wonder if it'll see a DVD release at some point.
Like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the Halo 4 campaign contains animated terminals accessible to the player. These depict the events of the Human-Forerunner War and Forerunner-Flood War from the perspective of the Ur-Didact and the Librarian, and chronicle his descent into evil.
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 vehicle, 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. And off we go into the newest HALO adventure.
Master Chief finds that things have changed for the Spartans, as well, since his long nap. Spartan, also referred to as the Spartan branch, is the fifth and newest branch of the UNSC Defense Force, responsible for command of special operations undertaken by the third and fourth generations of the SPARTAN Program. This branch was established in the years following the apocalyptic Human-Covenant War; a time which saw a dramatic increase in the numbers of Spartan supersoldiers upon the activation of the SPARTAN-IV Program
The beginnings of the fourth generation of the venerable Spartan program began shortly before the end of hostilities in the Human-Covenant War. Admiral Margaret Parangosky, Commander-in-Chief, Naval Intelligence, 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 were handpicked by Beta-5 Division for their exceptional service during the war, mainly from special operations units from across the armed forces.
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.
The total number of Spartan personnel in the branch has not yet been specified, but the minimum count is well over 300: UNSC Infinity alone carries 300 to 500 Spartans. This count may include any former SPARTAN-III personnel, since all SPARTAN-IIIs active by early 2553 were reassigned to the fourth-generation program on Admiral Parangosky's orders.
The SPARTAN-IV Program is the fourth iteration of the SPARTAN supersoldier program. It was conceived by Admiral Margaret Parangosky, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
The SPARTAN-IVs serve in a dedicated branch of the UNSCDF known simply as "Spartan", whereas their forebears operated within other chains of command. Unlike their predecessors, the SPARTAN-IVs are identified by their surnames rather than numeric tags (due to their obvious volunteered enlistment rather than kidnapping/conscription). Unusually, the SPARTAN-IVs have shown a great deal of solidarity, especially impressive given the short time they have served together. Psychologists assert that this camaraderie and cohesiveness will help distinguish the SPARTAN-IVs, and the Spartan branch as a whole, from the other UNSCDF branches.
The MJOLNIR armor that all Spartan supersoldiers wear has been upgraded, as well. The MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor [GEN2] is the second system-wide generation of the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor. The GEN2, which is lighter than the Marks IV through VI, is worn by SPARTAN-IV supersoldiers. The armor was used in widespread by SPARTAN-IVs aboard the UNSC Infinity in July 2557.
The GEN2 was developed by the Materials Group as a response to the SPARTAN-IV project. The armor incorporates new ad hoc modification systems which gives the armor the ability to use tactical packages, support upgrades, and armor abilities. The GEN2 is now produced by half a dozen manufacturers, both within the military and among private contractors. Like its GEN1 predecessors, it is backwards compatible with previous armor systems such as the Mark VI -- lucky for Master Chief.
The manufacturing and production of a number of variants were transferred to new corporate identities after their initial company manufacturers' base of operations were razed by Covenant forces during the Human-Covenant War.
And, there's no shortage of variants. Among those listed -- Air Assault, Aviator, CIO (Combat Intelligence Officers), Commando, Deadeye (Snipers), Defender, EOD, Enforcer, Engineer, EVA, HAZOP, Infiltrator, Oceanic, Orbital, Operator, Pathfinder, Pioneer, Protector, Raider, Ranger, Recon, Rogue, Scanner, Scout, Soldier, Stalker, Tracker, Warrior, and others.
You know, I think they finally managed to outnumber Clone Trooper variants with all this. Makes you wonder if the designers at McFarlane Toys are excited over the figure possibilities of all these variants -- or just whimpering.
To date, along with Master Chief, two versions, the Warrior and the Soldier, have been released, and a CIO and one other are in the works. Let's hope Halo 4 and its sequels have a healthy run, folks -- there's a lot to work with here.
The specific details of the Soldier variant are as follows: The MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor/Soldier is a variant of the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor (GEN2).
The MJOLNIR/Soldier variant was manufactured by the Materials Group. It was tested at the Damascus Testing Facility on Chi Ceti IV. Soldier-class armor functions in a support capacity on the battlefield as operators equipped with this armor can carry substantially more equipment than Spartans wearing other armor types, while retaining their field mobility and dexterity.
So, how's the figure? Very impressive. I'll admit, I've not always been the biggest fan of McFarlane Toys, but they do a really outstanding job with their HALO products.
And the Spartan armors in the game aren't the only place they've received an overhaul. The toys have been redesigned somewhat, as well, and by that I mean structurally, not just with regard to their appearances. These figures from Halo 4 have several significant changes to their basic design from previous versions. They're even different from a three-pack of Halo figures that was recently released that was based on the animated video "Halo Legends" (a set and a video that I highly recommend).
Most notable is a significant design alteration to the leg joint. Early Halo figures from McFarlane Toys were, shall we say, rather overworked. By the time of Halo Reach, the most recent toy line prior to Halo 4, they'd been simplified somewhat. Now, the leg joint is a straightforward ball-and-socket design. Honestly, it works better than I'd expect it to, giving the figure a very decent range of mobility. I will say that it's just a little delicate. At one point, while I was posing him, the Spartan Soldier's right leg fell right off. Fortunately, it also snapped right back in again.
Overall articulation is extremely impressive. The Spartan Soldier is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, with substantial movement here, mid-torso, legs, knees, with a swivel, ankles, and the fronts of the feet. Frankly, the feet are some of the most articulated portions of the figure, which is a little peculiar if you think about it.
The Spartan Soldier has dark blue armor, but I don't think that color is any sort of key to the variants any more than it ever has been. I saw a purple Spartan Soldier in a boxed set with other figures. To the best of my knowledge, though, McFarlane Toys is not turning out the massive multiples of color variants that they have in the past. There was a time when there might be six different color variants of a specific type of Spartan armor, most of them exclusive to one store or another, whether it was Walmart, Toys "R" Us, Hot Topic, GameStop, Spencer Gifts, or whatever. There were even international exclusives, which really drove the collectors crazy.
I don't see that happening this time around, which in my opinion is just as well. I'd rather see them turn out more of the specific armor types from this game. They can color them as they see fit.
The Spartan Soldier stands right about 5-1/2" in height. It's an interesting size/scale that's not really used by any other major toy line at the moment, but that's okay. The helmet is an interesting design in that it looks to be a slightly tighter fit than Master Chief's, is more detailed, and it doesn't have as wide a visor. The gold visor on the front is a relatively narrow slit, especially narrow in the center, with a very slight "V" angle to it. The front of the helmet near the mouth is black and somewhat recessed, as if there's some bit of armor that's supposed to fit across there under special circumstances. But it does, at least, make for a distinctive design.
Speaking of distinctive designs, I was amazed when I compared this figure to my Spartan Warrior figure. I expected the figures to be more or less identical except for helmets and perhaps chestplates. That was certainly the case with Spartans in the past, but it's not here. Although the two Spartan armors are similar on the most basic level -- that of consisting of a protective black undersuit that has some semi-armored details of its own, with extensive colored armor secured to it to protect the body, the two armors are otherwise entirely dissimilar. And, for that matter, neither one is all that similar to the upgraded armor of Master Chief, although you'd sort of expect him to be unique, given the circumstances.
This alone might give McFarlane Toys some fits, as they can't just use the same body over and over again with a few minor changes. I mean nothing is entirely alike between the two figures. The Warrior's knee armor has a round shape. The Soldier's is angular. There's a sort of "V" shape on the boots of the Warrior armor that the Soldier's boots do not have. Not even small areas like the armor on the backs of the hands is the same.
This, obviously, is also a reflection of the enhanced capabilities of the computers used by Microsoft and their gaming studio in coming up with this game. They were obviously able to make each type of armor much more distinctive than in previous games.
To continue the comparison, the Soldier's armor looks slightly bulkier in some respects to the Warrior's. The legs seems to be more armored, and clearly, the Soldier is carrying more equipment, which seems in keeping with the description of his specialty. There is a row of small pouches on his chest, pouches on the sides of his upper legs, and a wide pouch across his lower back. The Warrior has none of these.
Paintwork on the figure is excellent. The Spartan Soldier has very dark blue armor, but there are some silver highlights here and there, and the gold visor, very neatly painted, really stands out. The visors are an area where I used to see some rather sloppy work far too often, but that hasn't been the case at all with these Halo 4 figures.
The figure has been given a certain amount of "battle wear", a slight brushing of dark silver here and there to make it look as though the blue paint on the armor has worn away a bit. Usually, I dislike this practice, but I will admit, first of all, that it's not inappropriate for the Halo concept, and secondly, that McFarlane Toys does it better than anybody else. They ought to -- they started it. I rather wish they hadn't, but it doesn't turn up as much as it used to. And it's not so extensive on the Spartan Soldier as to be really annoying, and I'll confess that it makes his armor look more like metal armor.
The Spartan Soldier comes with a rifle, and it's a fine accessory, very nicely detailed and painted. One thing I have noticed "missing" from recent Halo figures. They all used to come with a tiny little spherical grenade. Honestly, it's no great loss as far as I'm concerned. It was a nice accessory, but it was so small it was the sort of thing that you knew could be easily lost. I've got a Ziploc bag of the things around here someplace, which was the only way I could think of to keep them together and not have them getting embedded in the carpet or rolling under large appliances.
So, what's my final word? Well, based on that list of Spartan types, and the visible evidence that the Spartan Soldier and Spartan Warrior are two entirely different figures, I'd say that McFarlane Toys has its work cut out for them. I look forward to seeing what's next on the roster, and I think it's a good thing that Halo 4 is the beginning of a trilogy of games. They're going to need it if the action figures are going to fulfill the potential from the games.
The Spartan Soldier is a very nice action figure, very well made, and I appreciate the design modifications. One minor leg incident does not a major problem make, and on the whole, it's an improvement. The sculpted detail of the figure is really outstanding and amazingly intricate, right down to the tiniest details that will give you eyestrain and a headache if you study and think about it too much. Paintwork is superb, and the end result is a truly spectacular action figure and a worthy addition to McFarlane Toys' growing series of armored fighters from the Halo video games.
If you're any sort of Halo fan -- and I certainly am, even if I'm terrible at video games -- then you'll definitely want to bring the Spartan Soldier into your collection. You'll be glad you did.
The SPARTAN SOLDIER from HALO 4 definitely has my highest recommendation!