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Mass Effect 2
by Artemis

It's fair to say Wrex - krogan battlemaster and Mass Effect's resident Big Guy on the team - was a pretty popular character. Unfortunately, he was also a pretty mortal character, among those who could've wound up dead on the way to a player successfully completing the game, so his role in the sequel was scaled back to a brief appearance that'd be practical to swap out for another character without requiring a huge amount of superfluous voice recording or changing the progression of the story massively; Wrex's stand-in, Wreav, basically fulfils the same plot function, he just doesn't know you and doesn't like you. That also meant Mass Effect 2 needed a new krogan (because BioWare would've been lynched by fans if they couldn't get any krogan at all on their team) which put the writers in the unenviable position of having to create someone new to replace a fan-favourite. Krogan Scrappy?

A youngish krogan, he's excitable and energetic. He's physically stronger than everyone, and had never had to bear real defeat. He's big and loves to fight. He had a youthful sense of invulnerability, but is cunning beyond his years. Grunt completely lacks the fatalism that usually afflicts old krogan who have lived through losing wars.

Luckily, Grunt, while not the runaway success Wrex was, is his own character, and found acceptance with fans pretty easily, but that's because he was well-written with a complex and intriguing backstory. Which that bio there completely avoids. Not spoiling major plot points is one thing, but it's okay for the back of an action figure package to tell us that Clark Kent is really Superman, you know? In brief, the krogan only really lost one war, but it was one they really didn't want to lose, since their adversaries won it by deploying the Genophage, a genetic weapon that smashed their viable birth rate down to one in one thousand. Not good for a species which always relied on massive population growth (as well as liberal applications of violence) to overcome adversity. That's why old krogan are fatalistic: their aggressive tendencies are killing their species off by attrition faster than they can produce viable young - they're staring at extinction, and they believe it'll win in the end.

Grunt was grown in a laboratory, distilled from the genetic material of the most powerful krogan warlords - pure krogan, perfect in his creator's eyes, the first of a new race of krogan who wouldn't need thousands of offspring per mating to survive and conquer. Grunt is indeed "youngish" - physically he's adolescent, pre-programmed with intelligence, guile, skill, and the strategic and tactical wisdom of the best of the krogan race, but in real terms he's "born" during the game itself, and depending on how much you faff about doing side-quests, could be just a few days old by the time you complete it. He's confident because he knows he was engineered to be the best... but it's just knowledge to him, bland information without emotional connection, and deep inside he wants to know what he is, not what he was built to be.

So he's an interesting character, far more than just a big tough brawler with no fear, and if whoever wrote the packaging bios had known that, I could have made this review a paragraph shorter, and still had space to tell you about his Hemingway fandom. Heigh ho.

He was also one of the poster characters for Mass Effect 2, highlighted in one of a series of character spotlight trailers released prior to the game, so it's no surprise to see him in the first (and now only - thanks, DC Unlimited) series of figures; the other three were Thane, Tali (both also in this series) and Subject Zero/Jack, who made way in the toyline for Shepard. He's a big boy - not so much tall, at 6¾" (being essentially teenage, he lacks the hump mature krogan develop, although he has a straighter posture that makes up for it a bit), but he's 3½" across the shoulders, and ain't none of it flab, as they say. The warlord who created Grunt helpfully pre-packaged him in his own techno-armour (because nobody outside obsessive Rule 34 devotees really wants to see a krogan's quad [that's the in-game slang for their junk, first used by Penny Arcade and then made canon in the second game, after the original revealed that krogan have four testicles]), and since Mass Effect 2 doesn't do the full armour-swapping of its predecessor, Grunt in action figure form is the same as Grunt in the game, dodging the whole customisation mess DC Unlimited had to deal with for Shepard. (Let's not get into loyalty armour, the poor guys have had a long day.)

More or less, anyway. While the basic design is sound, the details are lacking, often literally. The armour surfaces are smooth like they're supposed to be, but there are a bunch of smaller design elements that have been altered or omitted to simplify the figure - the reduced belt buckle leapt out at me, comparing the figure to a screenshot, and the add-on panels at the side of his stomach have been reduced from two to one, in what you can only conclude was the sculptor not wanting to put in the effort of replicating the proper design without making it seem crowded (helpful hint: the game did it, copy that). Everywhere you look it's the same story: small details smoothed out, simplified, omitted. Most damning from a looks point of view is that his skin has no texture - he's meant to have scales, but his biceps look like they come from a He-Man figure. It's the same deal with the paint: plain silver, with an indifferent grimy look that doesn't get into any of the crevices to help highlight sculpted detail (it ought to be pale grey metal, not shiny silver - the prototype photo, attempting this, used pure white, so apparently DC Unlimited are back in the '80s seeing in 16-colour EGA, or something), flat black secondary colour areas with no highlighting, and plain medium blue, barely visible, for the multitude of light-up areas of the armour - come on, you couldn't even paint those a bright blue?

The head is the only area that's truly high detail, but even it suffers. Grunt has a big face, and it's very mobile and characterful so he's got some memorable close-ups in the game; it's a challenge to reproduce, and one the figure meets with a depressing "eh, good enough" feel. The sculpt is adequate in the essentials, but too pointed, not brutish enough at the front (seriously, this guy was evolved to solve problems by headbutting), the shape of his jaw is wrong, especially at the sides, and they haven't even tried to make his neck look like it should at the front. The lack of scales does some real damage too, reducing what's supposed to be a rich, snakelike skin you can practically feel the texture of to something flat and lifeless, in turn emphasising the wrinkles quite unflatteringly. The paint on the eyes is good, but elsewhere not so much - the plain brown has none of the fresh, youthful pinkishness Grunt's face has in the game, and the crest atop his head is sculpted and painted very dully, completely missing the detailed, rock-like armour plate look it should have. He's also got a molding seam running right down the middle of his face. Great.

So we come to articulation, where Shepard fell down, and since Grunt's on the ground already, we're just adding insult to injury now. He's got a swivel neck, at the angle his head meets the armour's collar - why that's not a balljoint I can't imagine, and it means you're limited to Grunt looking straight ahead, or Grunt looking straight ahead with his head rotated at a stupid angle. He's got a swivel waist, well hidden, and his arms are swivel/pins at the shoulder, pin elbows, and balljoint wrists. Take a look at that broad chest, and tell me if you think those joints will let him hold his gun two-handed without it just pointing comically sideways; all the wrist joints do, since the balls extend out from the vambraces instead of being hidden within then, is make his wrists look thin and spindly unless you jam the hand up against the edge of the armour to hide it. For legs, he's got peg hips, pin knees, and swivel ankles - yep, you can make Grunt pigeon-toed if you want. Enjoy that, because it's all you can do with his legs.

For accessories, he's got the M-300 Claymore, which is a good choice - there are technically better shotguns in the game, but the Claymore is the "krogan shotgun," so-called because anyone else who fires one will get the arm broken by the recoil (except Shepard, who's just that badass), so it's a fitting weapon for Grunt. The sculpt is decent, the paint is not - most of the shine in the photo is camera flash, aside from individual details, and a dusting of silver at the front, it's plain black, whereas the real thing, well, the image is there. Of course, it's got no stock, so any action pose with the gun needs it to be held two-handed... oh, wait. He also has a removable chestplate, which I've concluded is just the result of the factory not bothering to glue it on properly (i.e. at all) - there's nothing under there that dignifies the term "sculpt" - and the usual little circular base, with a peg for Grunt's right foot. His stance is far too wide to get the left anywhere near the base, so it looks silly; luckily his feet and big and flat, so he'll stand without it.

So that's Grunt - basically, a plastic statue with a couple of minor joint options, who stands there looking ahead of himself and holding his shotgun one-handed like he's never seen a gun before (his blasted hand isn't even sculpted to grip it tightly), and looks... "eh, good enough." I'll put my hand up now and say I'm not the biggest Grunt fan - I like him as a character, but not as a person in any great way, although he scores points for collecting action figures (not making that up) - so I shouldn't really be this cross about the apparent level of oh-who-cares that's gone into making his figure... but I am. No, not good enough.

-- 06/11/11

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