Halo Master Chief

Poe Ghostal is in the house with another terrific review - this time it's the Halo Master Chief.  Take it away, Poe!

In the early 1990s, a company with the very prescient name id software created a game called Wolfenstein 3D, the best-known forefather of all first-person shooters. Wolfenstein played to the classic trope of blowing away legions of pixelated Nazis, ending in an all-out battle with a cybernetically-enhanced Hitler ("Guten tag!"). id followed Wolfenstein with Doom and then Doom II. I played the latter in 1994, when my family bought our first Pentium 90. It's quite accurate to say I spent the next year shooting a lot of quite hideous aliens.

The numerous first-person shooters to follow the Doom series have created a few variations on the typical format. There have been successes (Quake, Dark Forces, Unreal, Half Life) and many, many failures. But few have been quite as successful as Halo.

Created by Bungie Studios, Halo (for those who have been living under rocks) is an FPS for the Xbox and PC. It has a fairly well-developed and intriguing story for a videogame (particularly for an FPS). The hero was the Master Chief, a cybernetically-enhanced marine with an AI in his head, whose outfit was more than a little reminiscent of that worn by the hero of the Doom games.

Halo was enough of a phenomenon (even when it was just on the Xbox) to warrant the usual multimedia blitz that follows anything popular. With two years, there were Halo posters, online comic strips, countless fan videoes (including the excellent Red vs. Blue), novels (written by science fiction author Eric Nylund, who in a 1997 interview claimed that media tie-in books were the "low end" of the science fiction market), and now, action figures.

The Halo figures (sorry, I'm sick of coding the italics) arrived in late summer 2003, courtesy of Joyride Studios. Joyride had created a number of videogame-themed toys in recent years, but none of them had caught fire with collectors. When it was announced that Joyride had won the Halo license, many collectors were troubled -- Joyride's previous products had been somewhat lacking in the sculpting department.

To the surprise of many -- including this reviewer -- the Halo figures turned out to be pretty good.

Packaging - **
Most of Joyride's previous videogame-themed toys had had the exact same packaging, modeled somewhat on Gamepro and Nintendo Power magazines, depending on the toy. The Halo figures were a welcome departure from this method, employing a cylindrical bubble format and some relatively snazzy graphics. Unfortunately I opened my Master Chief ages ago, so I don't have a pic of the packaging.

Sculpting - **1/2
It ain't Michelangelo, but it's good. Judging from the human figures in the second line, I suspect the blocky nature of Master chief's armor (and his origins as a pixelated videogame character) made Joyride's sculpt seem a bit better than it actually it was. If you look closely at certain parts of the figure -- the area just below the visor, for instance -- you'll see the sculpt isn't quite as detailed and accurate to the game as it could be. Still, it's definitely a step up from Joyride's earlier work, and shows the company is working to improve.

Paint - **1/2
Again, there's deceptively little to comment on here. The Master Chief is molded in oddly gold-speckled green plastic, with the appropriate parts of armor painted black and gray. That's about it.

The one inspired bit of work is the visor. One of the amusing things about the game was the way the Master Chief's mask completely obscured his face behind a weird, shifting wash of color. The gold chrome used on the Chief's mask perfectly achieves this effect.

Articulation - ***
Here's where this figure really shines. The Master Chief sports (by my count) 18 points of articulation, including ball-jointed shoulders and cut biceps. This allows him to get into some interesting poses with his weapons (see pics).

There's only one problem -- many of the joints are quite loose. The ankles are a particular problem; if they're not perfectly balanced, the Chief will keel right over. It's also incredibly annoying to try and get his arms to wrap around his gun and hold that position. Part of that is due to the looseness of the joints and the shape of the hands; but it's also due to...

Accessories - **1/2
...the sculpting of the weapons. I'll give Joyride credit; they gave the Master Chief his sniper rifle, which is easily my favorite weapon in Halo (yes, I'm one of those "camping" bastards, and proud of it). The sculpting on these is the strongest evidence of my theory that Joyride's sculpting standards haven't quite caught up to the industry average, but they're getting closer. The sniper rifle comes with a little poseable stand that will snap right off the second you try to move it -- I can almost guarantee it. I say, just take the thing off and be done with it.

Master Chief also comes with a pistol and his iconic rife. (Again, unfortunately I didn't have any of the other weapons on hand when I took the pics; but the sniper rifle looks cool, trust me). It's this latter weapon that annoys me. It has a strange triangular hilt that I suppose is accurate to the game, but makes the gun virtually impossible to fit correctly in his hand. As a result, getting the figure into any kind of pose requires a careful balancing act that gets real old, real fast.

Fun Factor - ***
Here's a place where I can give Joyride a few free points. For all the flaws I discussed in the previous categories, the Master Chief is a fun figure. I actually don't mind the slightly cartoony look; it works with the videogame theme, and it makes the figure seem more like a "toy" to be played with. If the hands could hold the weapons better, I would have added another half a point.

Value - **
At nearly $15 MSRP, it's difficult to recommend the Master Chief to anyone except Halo fans. Yes, he's tall (nearly 9"), well-articulated, and comes with three weapons, but the price is still a bit too steep (for a sobering contrast, compare what you get with this figure to what you got with one of Stan Winston's Realm of the Claw figures for the same price).

Overall - **1/2
The Master Chief is a cool figure from a cool property. He's got some excellent articulation and a decent sculpt for a relatively young company. But he's unquestionably overpriced, and the looseness of the joints and the Chief's stubbornness in holding his weapons leaves a lot to be desired. Here's hoping Joyride's Halo 2 line improves upon some of these flaws when it arrives later this year (and, from the looks of it, they will).

Figures from the collection of Poe Ghostal.

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