Altair - Assassin's Creed

There has always been a edict in the toy industry that video games should make good action figures.  Kids love the characters, why wouldn't they love the toys?

Of course, this ignores the fact that video games and action figures actually serve an identical play process - role playing.  Before video games, action figures were how little boys (and little girls, since as you know I consider Barbie an 'action figure' and not a doll :) role played with their favorite heroes.  They fought, they struggled, they loved...allowing the child to act out adult roles through the figures.

But with the boom in video games, which provide exactly the same opportunity, the market for action figures began to dwindle.  Why would a kid want to play with a figure of Sonic when he can already play as Sonic in a much richer video world?

That leaves another avenue for companies - rather than producing the figure as a 'toy', it can be a 'pop culture collectible'.  If you love playing the game Tomb Raider or Hitman, wouldn't you also love a little statuesque version of the character, certainly not to 'play' with (since any teenage boy will tell you this is childish, although they will spend hours doing exactly that on their game system and consider it different only because the medium is more sophisticated), but to display on your desk or cube?

And that's the direction most companies have taken in recent years.  Whether that works or not though is certainly debatable.  The only video game based line I can think of that I'd consider truly successful in the U.S. (making it through multiple series and having a true positive impact for the company's bottom line) was SOTA's Street Fighter, where they also had the nostalgia effect.  There have been greater successes in Japan, but they seem more attached to Nerd Hummels than American buyers are currently.

NECA has been doing their best to tap this market lately with their Player Select series.  The latest release is Altair, the main character from the very new game, Assassin's Creed.  I haven't played it yet (the only up and running video game system at my house right now is the Wii), but the description and storyline certainly sound interesting, and I love the basic character designs.  I also found out that my current dirty old man fixation, Kristen Bell, voices one of the characters, so I definitely have to check it out.

Altair is hitting stores like Hot Topic or FYE in some places, but your best bet is either the local comic shop or an online dealer.  Expect to pay around $12 - $15, depending on the retailer

Packaging - ***
NECA is sticking with clamshells, which is fine by me.  The white background, which fits the design theme of most of the game's packaging, is a bit boring even with the inclusion of the graphics.  Still, it's a nice clean look, and I'm not going to complain too much.  Even better, the clamshell wastes very little space, a big issue these days in our newly 'green' world.

Sculpting - ***1/2
One of the most impressive aspects of this sculpt is the small detail work.  The pouches and containers on the belt, the small knives on his shoulder, the intricate carving in the buckles and belts, all of it is rendered in great detail in a very realistic way for this scale (6 - 7").

On this figure, in the battle between articulation and sculpt, the edge went to sculpt.  The upper arm and leg clothing is sculpted in such a way as to hide the elbow and knee articulation, and it does that fairly well.  Unfortunately (just like you'd expect) this also means it restricts the amount of movement the joints have.

The regular right hand is sculpted to hold a number of the accessories, including the small knives if you place them between the thumb and first finger.  The alternate hand is sculpted in a gesturing pose, which looks good with a number of stances.

The right hand is sculpted with the missing ring finger, and (just like in the game) this accommodates the extending blade in his right gauntlet.  This blade moves in and out smoothly, and remains well hidden when retracted, but it is a soft plastic, and ended up with a weird bend about two thirds out right in the package.  It's a tough bend to remove as well, because the blade is so small and soft.

The head sculpt is a very good representation of the game character, right down to the scar on the upper lip.  If I have one complaint here, it's that the front edge of the cowl doesn't quite have that 'bird beak' look to it that you see in the game.

On the plus side though, the cowl is sculpted as separate from the body, and goes deeply into the neck joint, so that you can pose the head in many different ways, and the cowl still looks great.

This figure is much more detailed and accurate than the 12" version that came with the special release boxed set.  That figure was produced by First 4 Figures for Ubisoft, and lacked much of the accurate sculpting on the belt/harness and clothing.

He stands just under 7" tall, and should fit in nicely with other 7" scale figures, including the rest of the Player Select line.

Paint - ***1/2
It looks like the factory is starting to produce the kind of paint work that NECA has been striving for.  There's still a few issues here, but this is well beyond the work we've seen on some of the POTC or early Harry Potter figures.

The facial hair is clean and well done, the eyes and eyebrows are nice and straight, and all the small details on the costume show clean cuts and good contrast. After going over not just early promo photos but screen shots (and having a reader mention it), I'm not sure that the soul patch is really supposed to be a soul patch, at least from NECA's point of view.  Yes, that's a moustache, and they're trying to approximate that "I don't have a moustache but always look like I haven't shaved in two days" look.  The character DOES have a slightly darker upper lip than jaw line in most photos, including the one on the box cover.

But the soul patch?  I'm thinking this arose from the heavy shadows that we usually see him in.  Most of the early photos (including the box art) show a dark shadow on his chin.  Perhaps NECA mistook this as a soul patch when it wasn't.  Even on the figure, from a distance, it looks like a shadow.

But while they did a good job of getting the gray and white colors of the uniform about right, this is still one of those cases where I think they went a bit overboard on the wash.  When it brings out detail and adds shadow, it's good.  When it looks like he's been wrestling with a pig (as do the arms), then it's too much.

Articulation - **1/2
While it might seem like all was peaches and puppies with this figure, I was a bit disappointed with the articulation.

Considering the character, I had in my mind that I wanted to do poses similar to what you can do with the SOTA Street Fighter line.

I think my expectation was also set by the press releases from NECA, which claimed ball joints just about everywhere.

The ball jointed neck is the highlight, and it does work quite well.  As I mentioned earlier, the way they designed the cowl allows you to pose the head in many ways, and yet not goof up the look of the clothing.

The ball jointed shoulders (jointed just at the torso) work as you'd expect, but the so called ball jointed knees and elbows are really the peg/disk type of joints.  That means the elbow or knee can bend forward and back, and the lower limb can also turn 360 degrees around the joint.  However, the clothing has been sculpted to hid the articulation, with the sculpt on the upper sleeves and upper pants coming down about half way over the joint.  It does hide the joint a bit, but it also restricts the movement forward and back.

The waist joint works fine as well, but the hips are another downer.  They are also advertised as 'ball joints', but they don't look like it.  In fact, I'm not sure what kind they are exactly, since they are tough to see under the robe, but they don't have much of a range of movement, and you won't be able to do much in terms of deep stances.

Finally, both the wrists and ankles are billed as ball joints, and they actually are.  But once again, the sculpted clothing restricts the ankles quite a bit, making them not much more than a cut joint.  The left wrist has no articulation (due to the retractable blade), but the ball joint on the right wrist works great.  In fact, after the neck joint, this right wrist is the best joint.

Accessories -***1/2
This guy is an assassin - he has a need for weapons of subtle destruction.  NECA has loaded him up with some trademark goodies.

I already mentioned the retractable blade on his left arm, but that isn't removable, so I don't count it as an accessory.

However, he has four more smaller daggers arranged on the front of his cummerbund-like belt.  These do come out, although once you remove the small rubber bands on them, you might find you have to pull pretty hard.  The paint may have them stuck, but they do come out.  He can hold them as well, if you get creative with his fingers.

There's also a larger dagger that's really more small sword, and this also fits in a cool scabbard, this time strapped to his back.

Finally, there's his full sized sword, which fits nicely in his hand or in the long scabbard permanently attached to his body.

While that's it for the weapons, that's not it for the accessories.  He also has an alternate gesturing right hand.  The post (inside the arm) is made from a nice hard plastic, but getting the hands off and on is a bit of a trial.

The sculpts and paint work on all of the weapons is good, and the sheer number make him score well above the current average specialty market figure.

Fun Factor - ***
The disappointing articulation drags this guy down a half star, but at least the joints are sturdy, and he could certainly survive normal play.  The weapons are too tiny for small children, but older kids could easily incorporate him into their ninja worlds.

Value - **1/2
If you pay around $12 or so for this guy, you can actually add another half star here.  The big plus is that not only does he have quality sculpts and paint, but he comes with all those extra goodies.

However, if you end up paying the more common brick and mortar price of $15, you can stick with an average value here.

Things to Watch Out For - 
I mentioned that the small daggers can be tough to remove.  Pull straight out though, and you should be able to free them up without damaging anything.

Also, the joints with sculpted clothing partly covering them (like the ankles or elbows) make require you to adjust to get in the best position.  It might not look like it at first, but there's actually a front and back to the cuffs, for example, and having them the right way helps a bit with the articulation.

Overall - ***
If I were grading this purely on sculpt and paint, I'd add another half star.  That means if that's all you care about, you can adjust accordingly.

But I also care about articulation, particularly with a figure like this.  Fighting is such and integral part of the character's personality, that you really need to be able to pose him in some dynamic ways.  I wasn't able to get the results I'd hoped for, and that killed a half star for me in my overall. 

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***
Sculpt - ***1/2
Paint - ***1/2
Articulation - **1/2
Accessories - ***1/2
Fun Factor - ***
Value - **1/2
Overall - ***

Where to Buy -
Online choices include:

- CornerStoreComics has him at $12 in stock.

- Amazing Toyz allso has him in stock for $12.

- Circle Red doesn't have the small figure, but the 12" vinyl figure is up for pre-order at $44.

- Related Links -
Other Player Select reviews include the Legacy of Kain figure,

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Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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