Saturday, 29 January 2011

Pursuit of Cobra Wave 3 - 'City Strike' Cobra Shock Trooper

Crap, it's been a while since the last update...anyways, since time is sharply rolling on, and PoC Wave 4 is now winging its way to me, I'm gonna try and finish up Wave 3 before then, and now that the chaff of the wave (that'll be Arctic Storm Shadow) is out of the way, we're gonna talk about the stars of the show, the first being...a nameless, faceless Cobra grunt.  How did that happen?

I blend into the night like I'm silhouetted by a massive black pillow.  Wait...

The Shock Trooper - whose name and function seem almost wilfully vague, something I'll come back to later - looks to be entirely black plastic here, but he's actually more colourful than you'd think, thanks to judicious applications of midnight blue and a couple shades of grey across his body, which really help to make him look...well, not like a ninja, which is good.  The last thing G.I. Joe needs is more damn ninjas.

"Has anyone seen the other half of my badge?"

The detail work on the sculpt is just astounding; obviously, the influence primarily comes from real-life SWAT officers, and the Shock Trooper has a similarly overburdened vest and thick gloves, not to mention padding on his arms and that curious balaclava/cowl combination head.  The edge of the cowl has a tendency to get stuck on the vest when you turn the head, which restricts his articulation a bit, but it's hardly a deal-breaker.  And I really love how the Cobra emblem on the shirt is only half-visible, as if one side of it is obscured by the items fitted to the vest (not actually the case - the vest is all one piece, Hasbro just carefully cut off one side of the logo).

Show us dat ass.

Things are much the same around the back, with the ribbed 'counter-weights' used in real-life to balance against the weight of all the junk stuck to the vest's front, and some more Cobra paintwork down one side.  He also has a handle jutting out from just under his collar, though I'm buggered if I know what it's there for.  Maybe so it's easier for one of his mates to drag him along the floor mid-firefight, Army of Two style?

"I know kung fu...except for the bits about taking your jacket off quickly.
Skipped that part of the movie."

Articulation is, as you might expect, fantastic for such a small figure.  It's not quite perfect, thanks largely to the detail work on the arms, which clutters the elbow joints a bit and prevents them from reaching a perfect 90-degree angle.  But wait!

"Yeah, I'm pointing at you!"

"Whassup wit dat?"

The new wrist articulation!  GLORY BE!!!!  Previously seen on the PoC Jungle-Viper and the SDCC Sgt. Slaughter figures (neither of which have shown up on this blog yet), this gives him an extra hinge on each wrist which, for some reason, don't actually match; so the left hand goes forwards palm-first, whilst the right goes up-and-down in a 'chopping' sort of way.  Still, new joints is new joints, and again, I'll come back to it later, because they really do help here.

I hope you're not expecting a funny caption about a hat.

The helmet is, again, very SWAT, and features detachable goggles which don't have a long enough strap to fit down over the Shock Trooper's eyes.  I'd complain about that, except I'm starting to expect it with my Joes, and you could always treat it as a nod to the classic series Vipers, who had similarly nonfunctional goggles on their helmets (which they didn't need, since they wore fully-enclosed masks).  Speaking of which, the Shock Trooper does still have the option of concealing his face in a different way...

Weirdest gas mask to not be worn by a guy called 'Vader' EVER.

No, that doesn't look like it would work very well, does it?  It's just a bunch of filters stuck to a curved bit of perspex.  Combined with the helmet, though, it all comes together very nicely.


Now that's better, isn't it?  What's especially cool is that, under the right lighting, the mask retains its translucency and lets you see the trooper's eyes through it.  Try clicking on the pic to enlarge it for an example.

So, we've established that the Shock Trooper is a good-looking and (mostly) well-articulated figure, but what about his guns?  Like most PoC figures, this guy comes almost drowning in accessories, and by and large, they're all winners.

For all your home-protection needs.

The main rifle is a model I'm not familiar with.  I'm not even entirely sure it's based on a real gun at all.  That said, it does look believable, and the curved 'banana' clip is very AK-47ish - apt, since that was the preferred weapon for all basic Cobra Troopers back in the day.

"SARGE!  Package tango inbound!"
"Oh, have my fizzy drinks arrived?  Thank christ, I'm bloody parched."

Here's where the NEW SOOPAH WRISTS come into play; they really do help him get rifles with stocks into decent firing positions, something a good many Joes have issues with.

We meet again, old faithful...

This shotgun - a SPAS-12 if I'm not mistaken - is probably one of the most well-used moulds amongst all the 'generation 3' accessories Hasbro's been churning out since the 25th Anniversary range started.  I'm pretty certain it was Flint's to begin with, but his was made from green plastic, which looked...ergh.  It had some pretty good innings in the Rise of Cobra line, particularly with Night Adder and the Elite-Viper from the troop builder pack, and now it's back again...

Gawd dang it, bubbah, that ain't how ya kill us a deer!

...except it doesn't seem quite so well-suited this time around.  Even the SOOPAH WRISTS can't quite allow the Shock Trooper to lift the thing into a good firing position, which is a shame, as it's otherwise still a well-sculpted weapon and quite fitting for a SWAT operation, where most fighting will be done up close and personal.

The red paint makes the bullets go faster.  It's SCIENCE.

This, on the other hand, seems to be new.  It's an MP5k, which is what happens if you take the usual MP5 submachine-gun favoured by American counter-terrorism units and shrink it down to a size where it fits in an attache case comfortably.  The weapon has been seen before with some other figures - Resolute Destro has one inside his M.A.R.S. case - but this is a newly-tooled version, and very nicely tooled it is too.  And to make the detailing stand out a little more, Hasbro added some red markings on each side, which is a rare thing to see.

"Sorry about before - I'm allergic to buckshot."

Despite his shotgun failings, Shock Trooper can manage a dual grip on the MP5k, using both the handle and the small foregrip just beneath the barrel.  But of course, a gun this small is the sort of thing that's bound to wind up being fired single-handedly...

don't fly low over any trees, pilot."

...such as when hanging from the underside of a Cobra Gunship mid-flight.  Honestly, sometimes these things just happen.

Next on the armaments list is what I'm guessing to be a taser pistol.  I know next to nothing about this sort of weapon, but the blunt, blocky front end of the pistol and the lack of, say, a slide or bullet chamber make me pretty certain that's what it is.  Unfortunately, I seem to have utterly failed to take a good picture of it, so instead, here's the Shock Trooper using it to 'contain' Duke.

Shock Trooper:  "Squeal, piggy!  Squeal!"
Duke:  *zapping noise*

So that's another fairly nice addition, even though Cobra - or my Cobra, anyway - aren't terribly bothered about taking people alive.  But what's that in his hand...?

"Ah, the dulcet tones of Chris Moyles - they always put me in a murdering sort of mood."

He's got a radio!  I love that.  Y'know how few Joes (and Cobras) come with some sensible means of keeping in touch with one another?  Very few indeed.  And given the retro bent so many Joes are keen on, it's hard to imagine most of them packing high-tech Codec-style communication setups.  So it's very cool to see a basic grunt remembering that, at some point or another, someone may wish to talk to him without shouting through several rooms.

Well, that's certainly the least interesting picture I've ever taken.

Yeah, it's not a terribly exciting piece of plastic by itself, but I still like its inclusion.  Plus, it's got its own little storage space too...

"I'm sure I had that radio on me when I sat down..."

There it is, on the back of his belt, exactly where it should be.  Sweetness!

Would sir like some ninja with his soldier today?

And then there's these things...okay, I can see how they look like cattle-prods, so they're some sort of electrified stun baton or suchlike.  Fair enough, it goes with the SWAT theme and the taser pistol.  But why are they joined by a string?
Enter the dragon.  The battle-armoured, begoggled dragon.

So they're stun-nunchuks, I suppose.  Blargh.  And to be honest, they're a little too thin for Shock Trooper to grip effectively.  Double Blargh.  Probably the weakest feature of the figure in hindsight, so it's just as well they're not really vital for anything.


This, on the other hand, is something I can get behind.  It's a hammer - a great big ol' sledge-hammer.  Okay, so maybe a 'door knocker' battering ram would've been a more sensible choice if we're going for the SWAT theme, but this is more workable, and somewhat multi-functional.

Okay, I give can't touch this.
*Gunshot, dies*

In case you were wondering - yes, Shock Trooper can grip the hammer with both hands very easily, and looks bloody mean when he does.  Maybe it's my inner WWE fan talking, but there's something more vicious about a sledge-hammer than there is a knife or sword; if Jim Ross was a war correspondent, he'd be better at it than Michael Cole was - and I can imagine him yelling about "business" and how it has "just picked up" whenever Shock Trooper goes to town on some Joes with this nasty lump of menace.


Raging battle-cries?  Yup, the hammer helps with that, too.  Though I suspect that its primary use shall inevitably be smacking Joes upside the head.


Tee hee.

Now we're talking.

Oh hell yes.  I love riot shields.  Not sure why - maybe something to do with Urban Chaos: Riot Response on PS2, or Crisis Squad in the arcade.  Whatever, point is, there's nothing cooler than carrying your own cover, essentially, and G.I. Joe as a whole has been lacking a good example up 'til now.  Even Shockwave, the Joes' own SWAT specialist, never had one.  But this, oh, this will do nicely.  It's predominantly translucent, as these things should be; maybe a bit too 'clean' - I'd mark out if it had a few bullet marks and scrapes across the surface - but it's still nice.  And of course, it has COBRA scribbled on it, in case you forget who carries the thing.

Can't think of anything relevant to put here, so...

The grip works like on a real riot shield, with a 'loop' to thread the wearer's arm through as well as a bar to hold in their hand.

Modelling this year's must-have item...

And here's how it fits on the Shock Trooper.  It can be quite difficult to force his arm far enough in to make his fingers wrap around the handgrip, but the shield stays on and stays in position firmly.

Finally, a Cobra Trooper with a chance of surviving longer than 5 seconds?

So then, we have safely established that, pointless stun-chuks aside, this is one seriously badass figure with seriously badass gear.  I can give it a 10/10 mark and leave it at that.


Ever since I first saw this guy, there's been two issues with him in my mind, and sadly, they're still here.  Firstly, there's the fact that, if it weren't for a few logos painted onto the gear, this guy wouldn't look like a Cobra operative.  Cobra, in most cases, likes to show off and either make its guys dress incredibly formal or attach all manner of odd, impractical stylistic flourishes to their battle armour because...well, because they're the bad guys, dammit, and bad guys are weird like that.  The Shock Trooper, in that sense, is disappointingly normal.  If Hasbro had painted him blue, he'd be a Joe.  Shockwave, specifically.  (note to Hasbro: if you want to actually paint this guy blue and re-release him otherwise unaltered, as objections here)

Also, there's the question of what his actual job is within the Cobra hierarchy.  One of the head designers on the G.I. Joe team has been quoted as saying that the Shock Trooper is a 21st-century update to the old-school Cobra 'blueshirts', their basic infantrymen, but this is such a radical departure from those previous figures it's hard to see the evolution.  Observe below as I compare Shocky with the closest figure I could find to a vintage trooper, the 25th-anniversary Crimson Guard:

"What the hell're you gonna do dressed like that?
Bust up an anti-Prop8 rally?"

Not the best picture, but you can clearly see that there's absolutely no common ground between these two guys.  The 'Siegie' is tarted up with his jackboots and double-buttoned shirt whilst the Shock Trooper could be someone's online COD avatar.

And on top of that, there's the slight issue that we've already got one Cobra urban assault trooper class in the Pursuit of Cobra line, the fantastic Alley-Viper:

"Red again?  Did I miss a memo or some shit?"

I can't very well replace the A-V with the Shock Trooper, because the A-V is far too cool a figure to drop, and with his stylised shield, inexplicably red vest and funky helmet, fits the Cobra style a lot better too.  So who goes on missions and who stays behind at the Terror Drome to do the washing-up?  Tough call.

Or maybe I'm overthinking this.  I mean, Rise of Cobra, good as it was, gave us two terrible standard army-builders (Neo-Viper and Viper Commando) before slightly upping its game with the Ice-Viper, then finally striking gold with the Elite-Viper.  PoC didn't really need to bother treating us to another classy Cobra trooper after the Alley-Viper (and I haven't even mentioned Jungle-Viper...), and yet Hasbro gave us one anyway.  Why complain?

Overall rating for 'City Strike' Cobra Shock Trooper:  10/10

"Surrender to me, Wild Bill, or I'll smash your tiny helicopter to smithereens!"
"Git yer damn dirty paws off ma slick, varmint!"

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Night Rhodes

Boredom at night leads to much messing around with a lamp in order to make 'stylish; shots of new War Machine figure.  That's all, really.

I think those turned out pretty well.  Hopefully I'll get the chance to do something more in-depth with this guy in future posts.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Film Reaction: ULTRAMARINES - A Warhammer 40,000 Movie

Wow, it's been a while since I talked about movies here.  Wait...oh, I never have, not on this blog.  Let's change that!

Warhammer 40,000...time for a personal admission.  I don't actually play Warhammer (of any kind) anymore, and haven't bought any of the models in years, but they were a fixation of mine for a couple years in high school, something I picked up from a few friends.  Eventually, when I started having to pay for my own stuff rather than leaching cash from my mother, the combined price of the models, the paints, the glue, the big table in the garage I'd converted into a battlefield, the toolboxes to hold everything and so on got to be EXTREMELY prohibitive, so I had to kick the habit - and honestly, I've never really felt tempted to go back.  But various other media spinoffs from the 40k universe have kept me interested in the fiction behind the products - in particular Relic's excellent Dawn of War RTS games on PC, which remain the only strategy titles capable of tearing me away from Command & Conquer.  Actually, I think the best way to appreciate 40k is through the side projects, since you get the cool visuals, pleasingly OTT dialogue and genuinely intriguing stories without having to spend the GDP of a developing nation on plastic men you'll have to assemble yourself.  So when I heard from...somewhere...there was a CG movie on the way, I got pretty interested, pretty fast.

You see shoulderpads that big, you know you're in safe hands.
Or the 1980s.

ULTRAMARINES, to the surprise of absolutely no-one, chooses to focus on the power-armoured posterboys of the 40k universe, the Space Marines - superhuman warrior-monks tasked with defending the widespread and decaying human race of the 41st millennium from the aliens, mutants and heretics that threaten their existence.  More specifically, it centres on a squad from the Ultramarines chapter, the blue-with-yellow-trim guys that seem to always be chosen above all other chapters when Games Workshop's photography guys want to take pretty pictures for the front of boxes and whatnot.  In comparison to the viking-like Space Wolves or the section-8'd Blood Angels, these guys are the by-the-book sticklers who believe in the absolute letter of the law - something which tends to make them fairly unpopular amongst 40k players, but...well, they make the powder-blue armour look cool, so there.  Nyah.

Plot specifics: a lone squad of the Ultramarines 2nd company, Ultima Squad - formed primarily of arrogant rookies and under the command of the venerable Captain Severus (Terence 'Kneel Before Zod!' Stamp) - are en-route to the planet Mithron, a largely-barren desert world holding only one site of real importance, an Imperial Shrine containing some sort of holy relic.  This site is guarded at all times by a full hundred-man company of marines from the Imperial Fists chapter - so what kind of menace could possibly move them to send out a distress signal?  And why aren't they responding to the hailing frequencies?  As Ultima Squad make planetfall and begin recon operations, it soon becomes clear that the hand of Chaos has been at work here, through its daemon hordes and twisted traitorous marines...all they can do is check for survivors, and pray they can outlast their enemies until extraction is available.

"Yeah, it's a bit of a fixer-upper, but once we get some chairs in here to
go with my massive flag, it'll feel just like home, sir..."

Being a British production by a newly-formed independent studio, I wasn't expecting Pixar-quality visuals from Ultramarines...and I was right to do so.  The more desert-based environments look fairly flat and dull, and the marines' unhelmeted faces have that rubbery-waxwork 'uncanny valley' look down pat.  That said, a few iffy animations notwithstanding it's comparable to New Captain Scarlet, and that's something to be proud of.  There are still some stand-out sequences, too - the tracking shots of the marines' Battle Barge spaceship in orbit are lovely, and there's a smartly-choreographed practice sword-fight between Severus and hero-of-the-hour Proteus (Sean Pertwee, who I really should recognise easier since he was in the really good Dog Soldiers).

The most curious thing about the whole film is that, despite being based around a franchise known for epic battles and starring a bunch of scarred manly-men, each wearing about half a truck's worth of steel plating on their shoulders alone, it's not an action movie - it's a horror movie.  Much of the first act is spent with Ultima Squad trekking slowly across Mithron's dusty plains, getting unnerved by indistinct shadows darting by in the distance and hearing disembodied voices whispering on the's all very effective if hardly inspired, though after ten minutes you do rather wish the film would pick up the pace; there's a little too many lingering POV shots of Proteus and chums just staring off at clouds whilst ominous music plays.  There's also a few 'WTF' moments where the squad amble across rickety wooden bridges successfully, even though there's no possible way guys THAT big would do anything but fall straight through the planks if this were to be attempted in real life.  Still, the mood is set up well enough, there's good jump moments, the violence is at least on a par with the Dawn of War games (which means it doesn't dick around; heads are imploded, blood splatters thickly, and chainsaw blades cut through torsos with the stubborn resistance of a steak knife through...well...steak), and there is of course a last-reel twist in the tale which is just about clever enough to fool the average viewer.  But not me.  Because I'm clever.

"NO!  Sergeant Kryon asked for LAVENDER-scented candles for his afternoon bath!"

Pacing issues notwithstanding, the script's very well done.  The marines all speak in that overly-articulate, somewhat-hammy style you'd expect from a bunch of monks with guns (it's what they are, really) without anyone trying to sneak in some horrible attempts at ironic wit, which would just kill the mood altogether.  All the details are faithful to the 40k universe, even the little touches like the prayers uttered by the Tech-Priest servitors to bless the weapons and armour of the marines before they head into battle.  At the same time, though, you never feel like you're being battered upside the head with a big 'Warhammer For Dummies' book and getting drowned in mythology.  All credit to writer Dan Abnett for that; seeing as how this is basically a fan project, it was always at risk of becoming one big, congealed blob of fan-wank, a fate he's managed to skilfully avoid.

The cast appears to be entirely English, or at least British, which I love; there's something pleasingly quaint about these characters - who look even more like the American alpha-male ideal than the steroid-riddled charisma vacuums found in anything made by Epic Games - all talking like they're from the West Midlands.  It's like the Space-SAS.  Pertwee does a great job with hero-boy Proteus, though the character's lack of distincitve traits does leave him somewhat overshadowed by Severus and the unit's Apothecary (medic, basically) - voiced by one Steven Waddington, giving the man the kind of world-weary cynicism and sarcasm that I've come to know and love from any good sci-fi sawbones.  And whoever got John Hurt aboard the project deserves a slap on the back, as not only does his scratchy, wizened voice really work wonders for Chaplain Carnak, but he delivers the opening narration with aplomb - something a less-venerable voice would struggle with.  "It is the 41st millennium, and there is only War" etc.  Quite a mouthful.  Props also to Adam Harvey for a more-or-less perfect score; understated when needed, dramatic swells when the gunfire starts, and big Gregorian choirs to reinforce the epic moments.

On the whole, Ultramarines is flawed but largely successful.  Its appeal to audiences beyond existing 40k fans is probably limited, thanks to the hard sci-fi subject matter and the low-budget production values, but it's clearly a labour of love, and a promising beginning for what will hopefully be a series of similar movies.  Now, who at Codex Pictures do I have to send muffins to for an appearance by the Necrons in the next one...?

Final Score:  7.5/10

After 30 years of losing to He-Man, Skeletor was taking this shit seriously now.

ULTRAMARINES is available as a mail-order exclusive direct from Codex Pictures.  Check their official site for details.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Worst Wii Game Ever?

Dunno about anyone else, but I really feel a burning need to play this shit for myself, if only to hear more of the lead character's godawful Londoner monologuing.  "Well, oi serpose oi've nevah bin good wif peepow..."