NECA have raised their game, have no doubt about it. If you glance over your shelf, few toys will hold a candle to the amazing work NECA is currently doing. Sure, expensive Japanese figures might have slightly more articulation and accessories and a little more detail on the sculpt, but you pay dearly for those things, while NECA manages to pump out great stuff at very reasonable costs, and still have mass market distribution. But, as usual, I have to be negative, and my major gripe with NECA is the same gripe I have with those expensive Japanese figures, and that's character selection.
Like the more popular and pricey toys from Nippon, NECA has mostly shied away from doing lines that cover only one property - Twilight and Predators being two of the exceptions, and even they cover multiple films from the franchise - instead doing lines that can cover multiple properties under one title, like their Cult Classics and Player Select. That's fine. The problem is, like my super-articulated S.H. Figuarts One Piece pirates, I end up being able to purchase a couple of the major characters, and then no more. Don't get the wrong, the individual figures are superb, but since I end up with three of the seven major characters in One Piece I basically have half a collection, and that's frustrating. Frequently, NECA's Randy Falk will offer explanation as to why they're doing this, often because the character designs of the figures they're not doing aren't unique enough and will seemingly not sell well. Call it "Wesker Syndrome," and my retort is to point to the samey-looking Predators currently doing magnificent business worldwide.
Regardless, NECA is doing sensational work and I'm really glad they nabbed the Valve licence, having pumped out the amazing Toy of the Year nominees Gordon Freeman from Half-Life and the Boomer from Left 4 Dead last year and with amazing figures upcoming from Portal and Team Fortress 2. My only complaint is, jeez, I want more of these things!! All of them!! Sate my addiction!! They've followed up the amazing Boomer with the Smoker, arguably the second most recognisable "special" zombie from the Left 4 Dead series, and guess what? He's freaking excellent.
The Smoker mutated into a tall skinny Special Infected. While his constant hacking produces smoke that makes him an easy target, his whip-like tongue is a lethal threat. It travels quickly over great distances to pull his victims back towards him. Always remember that if your teammate is grabbed by the Smoker, shoot the tongue to free the Survivor. Just remember, it will not kill the Smoker so you will still have to hunt him down.
That becomes his real danger, always above you on the rooftops pecking away at your team.
Ignore that bio - the only thing you need to know is that Smokers are assholes. When you're rolling around with your co-op crew in Left 4 Dead, everything is swell until your crowd heads off in a direction leaving you trailing behind just a few feet, in which you're guaranteed one of these jerks is looming around, on top of a building or hiding in the forest, and will shoot his long nasty tongue at you, dragging you to your doom. Or if you scout ahead of the group - a Smoker will be just around the corner, waiting to grab you away. The horrible wretching coughing sound they make is even worse than your chainsmoking auntie, and they don't even stop being annoying after they die: if you kill one, he leaves behind a nasty plume of thick smoke guaranteed to make you wander directly into the path of a Boomer or Witch. Not to mention the fact that the Smoker is the single worst special zombie to encounter if you're playing by yourself, as frequently your AI buddies wont be sure what to do if you get "smoked" from a high angle that they can't take him from, in which you'll die and have to start the whole chapter again. F U, SMOKER!!
NECA beautifully captures this jerk with some of the best sculpting since, well, the last Left 4 Dead zombie they did. The Smoker stands 8" tall, which game-accurately towers over most of your other figures, and features the same ghastly bulging pustule nastiness as the Boomer did. One of many smart things Valve did with their zombie plague was make the infection similar from zombie to zombie, even if the core function/gimmick of the zombie was entirely different, making their in game lore and universe consistent. This definitely shines through on the Smoker, with one half just nastily rotted like any zombie, and the other side bulging in the most awful way possible. It's terrific.
His clothes are wonderfully sculpted, completely accurate to the in game model, and his head is the pièce de resistance - it's vile. All of
the gross bulging horror mixes with what appears to be multiple-tentacle-tongues extending from the front and back and side, and appearing to go back into the face and then poke back out somewhere else, making one of the most horrendous looking things in your collection. It's excellent.
The paint matches this amazing sculpting, with nicely-shaded clothes complimenting their simplistic sculpt (with the odd blood splatter for effect) and then gorgeously, sickeningly painted bulges and bits all over the exposed skin. The use of gloss all over the infected skin makes it look extra revolting and extra awesome, plus any gore is used sparingly so it's effective instead of being over-the-top. You cannot fault it - this is a spectacularly designed and painted toy.
But it doesn't end there - the Smoker is exceptionally articulated too, with balljoints at the neck, midsection, wrists and feet, swivel/hinge joints at the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees, and swivels at the top of the legs. Smoker can do anything you want, and the joints are solid enough to keep him standing. It's awesome. A minor complaint might be that his neck joint is a little loose and his head occasionally pops off when you move it, but because of the excellent durability there's no risk of breakage - you just pop the head back on and he's good to go.
Now, to simulate the tongue-launchy ability that this guy is blessed with, NECA has included interchangeable bendy tongues
that plug into his mouth allowing you to have him shooting his tongue out at an unlucky survivor or just hanging grossly from his sickening maw. These tongues are 3¼" long and 6" long, and are all bendy - take that, Matty "we can't do bendies because we're retarded, waaaaaah" Collector! These all look terrific and the bendiness is also shared by the ones protruding from the other parts of his gross gross head. You could not ask for this to be done better - NECA delivers on all fronts.
EXCEPT THE FRONT IN WHICH I GET MORE L4D TOYS!! I want them all! The Spitter, the Witch, the Charger, not to mention an enormous awesome hulking Tank boxed set!! And I want the G-Man from Half-Life, and Alyx Vance, and a Combine Soldier army-builder, and and and and so many more! Please, please keep making these toys, NECA - I promise I will keep buying them. I already have my Team Fortress and Portal characters preordered, even though that's mostly unheard of in Australia, and I cannot wait!! Is it really a criticism if the only fault you can find is that you want even more, even sooner? I postulate that to you, dear readers.