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Extreme Conditions - Desert Assault Squad
Review and photos by Justin Bell
To date, the 25th Anniversary line has sold itself on its nostalgic nature. With figures reminiscent of their originals as the driving force behind this G.I. Joe expansion, fans like me who really appreciate "new" and "different" haven't been given a whole lot of either. Don't get me wrong, I can definitely see how the vintage reproductions have their place and I love new versions of old fan-favorites as much as the next guy, but every once in a while I want something original. After all, G.I. Joe hasn't survived for twenty-six years by reliving the past.
Fortunately, the two new Extreme Conditions Sets seem to be just what the doctor ordered. They manage to take existing parts and characters, throw them into a blender, and whip up something new for fans and collectors. What we get is a very lively combination of the old and the new with even some original versions of popular classics as well. Considering the price, a very reasonable sum for a 7-pack of figures, and the climate-specific themes, which certainly seem to have fans excited, and you have a new set of figures worth adding to your collection. For the most part, these troopers are the nameless and the faceless, and that's a pretty neat direction to take COBRA in with these sets.
Crimson Guard v13: Okay, for the most part I can understand and appreciate the choices Hasbro made in these sets, but this one has me totally baffled. While I'm a huge Crimson Guard fan and I'm all for seeing them included in as much as possible, I have absolutely no idea why covert undercover elite agents (who are mostly lawyers and accountants) are dressed up in desert gear and part of a special operations squad...especially equipped with those dress uniform rifles. Wha--? The figure choice is bizarre (and they put two of them in this set, no less) and the colors honestly are not all that exciting either. These are desert troopers, but Crimson Guards in various different shades of brown don't do a whole lot for me, in all honesty.
The CG's do retain their removable helmets and the familiar "Fred heads" underneath, which is an appreciated touch, but there isn't much more about them to talk about. Their accessories are somewhat dull (it would have been nice to at least get some extra CG bayoneted machine guns instead of these rifles) and the characters just do not fit in this particular format. The Crimson Guard really fails on every level that all of the other figures succeed at as well, which really baffles me. The strength of these sets are the combinations of different parts and the creations of different types of troopers, and the CG's do none of that, which results in a pair of fairly dull additions to this Desert Assault Squad.
I am fairly happy to report, though, that the Crimson Guards are pretty much the only drawbacks in this set, as most other figures are an interesting combination of parts and pieces and make up some new and cool troopers.
COBRA Officer v8: Of course I just complained heavily about the Crimson Guards not being different enough, and then I'm going to turn around and praise the COBRA Officer, even though the same could be said of this figure. The COBRA Officer here is pretty much a straight repaint of the one we got in the comic pack (only with a non-scarred head) and honestly I love it a lot more than I thought I would. I've never had an affinity for climate specific troopers, but in the Officer's case, the change really makes sense. Unlike Crimson Guards, COBRA Officers are often found on the front lines leading assault squads, so it makes perfect sense for them to be used in this capacity. The tan base uniform color is complimented very nicely by the darker brown webgear and the black trim throughout. It gives the figure a very desert motif which is nice.
Unlike the Crimson Guards as well, the COBRA Officer actually comes with a terrific accessory compliment. He's got his familiar removable helmet, knife, and webgear, but also has the AK-47 that the comic pack version came with, which is great. Small decisions like this can really make or break a figure (or even a multi-figure set) and if he had come with the boring old Drugonov that he came with originally, I might have a drastic re-interpretation of his inclusion here. As it is, I really like this figure.
The coolest thing, though, is that he also comes with the comic pack Firefly's backpack of goodies! This weapons case is chock full of goodness from explosives to wire cutters and a maglight, and it adds a great sense of newness to this character. It's something that the Crimson Guard failed to do and the Officer manages to do very well, with only the slightest change in accessories.
COBRA Trooper v12: So far I've only talked about the figures that are straight-up repaints of stuff we've gotten already. It's the stuff like this that really makes this set shine. This is a COBRA Trooper listed on the box as a "Flamethrower Expert" and what Hasbro does is take some familiar parts and mix them up a bit to give us something totally new. Yeah, COBRA has "flamethrower experts", typically the Incinerators, but it makes perfect sense for them to have some normal troopers with that capacity as well.
Most of this figure is made up of Barbecue parts, but honestly seeing them in use by COBRA isn't nearly as disconcerting as one might think. The shoulder pads and airtank both make perfect sense for a trooper of this capacity, and by adding in the desert colors, this Trooper fits seamless with the rest of the desert assault team. I really like how they use the Viper head here instead of a typical Trooper head as well, and really leaving off the goggles does not make the least bit of difference to me.
From an accessory standpoint, the flamethrower expert comes with the same goodies that Dreadnok Torch came with...a nicely equipped fuel tank backpack and a hand-held torch, which really isn't a flamethrower by any stretch, but it serves it's purpose well. I do have to say that the handle for this weapon is absolutely huge, and it can be pretty tough to get the trooper to hold it as it should. The stiffness of the wire connecting the torch to the backpack combined with the thickness of the handle really contorts the weapon somewhat, and making it look nice can be pretty challenging.
Last but not least, this Trooper also comes with the same somewhat dull Drugonov rifle that I referenced in my last paragraph. Honestly I don't care for this weapon at all, it's tough for the figures to hold, and I just don't like it all that much. Thankfully it's pretty much just a "toss in" weapon here, so it doesn't make or break anything.
COBRA Trooper v11: Now I'm not sure exactly what I think about the Explosives Expert (also listed as simply a "COBRA Trooper" on the box). With a standard COBRA Trooper head and helmet (though with a different ethnicity, which is a nice touch) and what appear to be standard COBRA Trooper arms, you'd think this was pretty much your standard run of the mill troop. But Hasbro mixes it up a bit by giving him the COBRA Viper webgear and legs, which kind of give the figure a new look. The choices make logical sense as well, considering he is an explosives expert, it only figures that he should have a padded uniform in the torso and the legs in case he should stumble upon anything.
From a color perspective, the Explosives expert has a lot more detail than some of the other figures in this set, with a nice array of tans, browns, blacks, and even some silver on his grenades. It ends up taking a figure that could have been somewhat bland and really giving him some life.
Looking at the accessories, this Trooper comes with Tripwire's mine carrying backpack and mine detector, both of which are standard equipment...but the weapon I really love is Ripper's bladed machine gun. For whatever reason I just have an affinity for that particular gun, and I'm thrilled to see a Trooper toting it around. The overall shape and design of the weapon combined with that nasty hooked blade just make this a gun you know COBRA would be running around with. I really love it.
All in all, my feelings on the Explosives Expert are mixed. He's an interesting combination of parts, which makes him stand out against figures like the Crimson Guard and COBRA Officer, but his parts choices aren't quite as vibrant as some of the others. The bulky torso padding also causes some minor poseability issues as well. Not a bad figure overall, but definitely not one of my favorites in this set. But if we're talking about "favorites", I've decided to save the best for last...
COBRA Trooper v13: Just like there are no Incinerators or no Desert Scorpions yet in this Anniversary mythos, there are also no Toxo-Vipers. And in one fell swoop Hasbro seems to be filling those divisions of the COBRA armies with regular COBRA Troopers, with somewhat limited success.
Well, there's nothing limited about the success of this COBRA Trooper, he absolutely ROCKS. I'm not sure I can explain it really. Whether it's the great use of the Flash/Grand Slam/Tripwire tooling, or the fact that the Air Trooper helmet is used (which was the same head as a "gas mask Trooper" back in the Valor Vs. Venom days) or even the weapon compliment. The fact is, it's all of those. This figure just comes together perfectly with all of those different elements just "clicking".
I really love the quilted padding they used for all of those figures I mentioned above (except perhaps Tripwire, who should have gone the "smooth" route), and it translates very nicely here to a figure that deals in "hostile environments". It has a very protective nature, and with the different shades of tan and brown the uniform looks great.
Black elbow-length gloves and knee-length boots add some nice stretches of dark color that break up the tans and browns and tie in nicely with the black gas mask on his face, too.
But let's face it, all of the tooling is sort of just complimentary, as it's definitely the accessories that "make the man" here. I absolutely LOVE that Air Trooper helmet...it's so versatile, and it works beautifully here as a gas mask that immediately this figure just becomes a Hostile Environment trooper. It's great. Not only that, but he comes with Barbecue's cool backpack and extinguisher (which looks enough like a "gas gun" to work in this regard) as well as Beach head's awesome machine gun. There isn't a single weapon here that doesn't work. A great package altogether, and this is nearly my favorite figure of the set.
Irony, thy name is Sebastian...
Here I am, ranting and raving about how happy I am that Hasbro is trying something new and different, and my favorite figure in this whole set is a figure that's a tribute to his classic version. Go figure. Am I a hypocrite or what?
All that aside, how can you complain about this version of the infamous COBRA Mercenary (except to point out that is arm is STILL not articulated at the elbow... grrr....). This is Major Bludd as he should have been done, and I'm thrilled that Hasbro was able to get this out so quickly, leaving the Wave 4 Bludd as a bad memory.
Hasbro looked past the familiar Zartan tooling used for the first version of Bludd, and followed the advice of many online fans by going with the HISS Driver torso. And what a difference it makes! Also using the COBRA Trooper arm is a nice change and the more standard military legs with knee-high jackboots. It all works worlds better than the original Anniversary Bludd did, and of course, you have to buy a $30.00 boxed set to get him.
But sure, this version of Major Bludd still has his share of faults, mostly lying with the missiles, his dogtags, and inarticulate arm, but from a visual perspective, this version looks worlds better than the original (and I actually sort of liked the original). I also like how Hasbro gave him a full five fingers this time around instead of his three-fingered claw. Once they get us an armored arm that actually moves at the elbow, I think we'll finally have a definitive version of Major Bludd in the Anniversary line. Until then, this one will have to do.
From soup to nuts, I'm pretty happy with the Desert Assault Squad all told. A team leader that looks the part and is a great improvement over the original...an assortment of new types of faceless legions that broaden everyone's COBRA horizons...and a very nice presentation, gives us a very striking multi-pack and a great way for collectors to quickly build some armies. Usually I'm not a climate specific type of guy, but this set really blends with a desert environment well, and it's a very nice, cohesive boxed set, with some great new elements mixed in.
A worth purchase to be sure. I like the Arctic set a bit better, but both of them are quite nice.