Sunday, 21 January 2018

Hunt for the Decepticons Hailstorm

While the original TransFormers live action movie introduced new characters based on vehicles seen in the movie, the toyline for Revenge of the Fallen, including the Hunt for the Decepticons and Reveal the Shield offshoots, went even further, and massively increased the number of Autobots and Decepticons using alternate modes derived from real-world vehicles that didn't necessarily feature in the film, and robot modes which conformed (by and large) to the movie aesthetic.

It was a bit of a scattershot approach, and led to several oddities and a bunch of strange G1 homages, but occasional releases, such as Hailstorm, really deserved to appear in one of the movies...

Vehicle Mode:
In quite a startling - and probably unintentional - homage to Generation 1 TransFormers from the 80s, Hailstorm's vehicle mode is based on a military vehicle which was (according to its Wikipedia page) designed in the late 1970s and produced from the 80s to the early 2000s - namely, the M270 'Multiple Launch Rocket System'. This is the sort of vehicle mode that should only ever be given to a Decepticon, since its purpose is clearly nothing short of the utter devastation of its targets... Though it was only a few years previously that Galaxy Force Backgild (aka Cybertron Defense Scattorshot) was a similar vehicle.

Hailstorm is cast mainly in a nice military green plastic, with the front of his launcher in black and a few visible joints cast in pale grey or goldish-beige plastic. The treads are molded in the goldish-beige plastic, with the wheels painted over in silver. The front grille is painted black and, aside from a Decepticon insignia (the non-movie version, unless my eyes deceive me) on each side, the only other vehicle-specific paintwork is the camouflage pattern in black and white that appears on either side of the cab section and of the missile battery. It's a shame the camouflage doesn't extend down the sides of the vehicle, but those surfaces are rather fiddly compared to the cab and launcher, so it's understandable.

All of this straight away makes for a fairly believable and coherent vehicle mode, despite his diminutive size compared to just about every other vehicle in the line - he's very small for a Deluxe generally, let alone in comparison to his contemporary Autobot cars from the Revenge of the Fallen toylines. What he loses in size, though, he makes up in extensive molded detail and function. One minor detail that is disappointingly unpainted is the lantern on top of the cab - considering it's clearly molded, it's a shame it didn't get a splash of paint... though this was fixed on the Mindset repaint released under the Reveal the Shield banner.

Regarding the molded detail, granted, most military vehicles in the more recent TransFormers toylines have been replete with the standard panel lines and rivet details, but few have been this compact along with it, and one often finds that the treads and wheels are either minimally painted or entirely unpainted, so Hailstorm's size - and the fact that budgets were clearly less tight back in the days of RotF/HftD - works well in his favour. On the downside, the head- and tail lights aren't painted, but that was about par for the course for military vehicle TransFormers.

Hailstorm is one of the few Deluxe figures with integrated, functional weapons. The eight missiles are pressure-launched (hence the red rods sticking out the back of the launcher), and the battery itself can rotate 180° on its mounting and raise to fire almost vertically. The battery is a little oversize for the purpose of ensuring the effective functioning of the launcher so, unlike the real-world vehicle, the battery rests on top of the back of the cab, rather than tucking in behind it. The problem with pressure-launch is that the results are so variable. For every missile that shoots out a couple of feet, there's another that just flops out of its channel, or doesn't fully exit... though the results can be improved somewhat by holding the bay door on the top closed.

Robot Mode:
There's something very Hulk-ish about Hailstorm's robot mode, not least in the resemblance to the Marvel Crossovers transforming Hulk tank in terms of its overall impression of bulk, as well as the use of the tank treads on the upper arms. There's also an implied hunch to his posture due to the way the head is attached to the body. The upper body has an almost rhomboid look (a little reminiscent of Starscream) between the pale grey transformation joints protruding either side of the main green chest panel, and this tapers down to a tiny waist before ballooning to the stubby, trunk-like legs and positively elephantine feet. The overall effect is that Hailstorm looks as though he could easily have shared some CGI elements with movie Brawl, hence the choice of a heavy ordnance, military disguise.

The sculpted detail on his legs looks a bit non-committal and vague, but everything else - from the armour parts on the flipsides of the treads, now showing on his upper arms, to the forearms and claws, the the waist and chest - looks clean, clear and very deliberate. Interlocking armour panels form the outer surfaces, with implied gears and pistons deeper into his body, he's very three-dimensional. The only issue is that none of the robot mode torso detail seems to relate to anything of the vehicle. For example, he has a grille in the middle of his chest... but it doesn't even vaguely resemble the vehicle's front grille, and just where does the wide, gunmetal bar across the top of his chest come from? Similarly, the gold discs on the bar below the grille could conceivably represent the headlights of the vehicle... which aren't painted... It's all very confusing, however awesome it looks. The two gunmetal chunks on his belly are an interesting variation on the robo-six-pack, and I have to confess I'm a little weirded out by the golden bulge on his crotch... Come to think of it, where does all this gold come from? I know his toes are visible on the front of his vehicle mode, just below the grille... but I didn't think they were supposed to be... And then, on the flipside, the camouflage paintwork from his vehicle mode all but disappears - it's still there on the sides of his legs and the backpack, but not present anywhere else.

While his forearms are disproportionately short compared to his upper arms, there's no shortage of detail and, again, similarities with movie Brawl, particularly in the clawed fingers and their very prominent joints. That the full hand is painted gunmetal is an excellent touch. Strangely, while the hands are sculpted open - the thumbs are actually separate from the index finger - the hole running all the way through isn't of a size or shape to accommodate any standard 5mm peg weapons, being both too large and too irregular. It's probably possible to wedge something in there, but I'm not sure Hailstorm would need a mêlée weapon, let alone a handgun.

Hailstorm's vehicle mode weapon transforms for robot mode, splitting apart and mounting a half-rack of four missiles over each shoulder - pegged in firmly, so they can no longer tilt up or down - leaving an empty box backpack looking a bit awkward and pointless. Sadly, the pressure-launch system is rendered rather impotent in this mode, as the stalks of the missiles are just too long and flexible. I rather wish they'd designed this so the stalks were short enough to be functional in robot mode, and the backpack featured buttons to facilitate launching in vehicle mode (much like the original Movie Ironhide's two-part cannon), but I'm sure there were several reasons the missiles were dealt with this way. Just below each rack, there's a group of three circular details at about a 45° angle, painted in the same colour as Hailstorm's eyes... No idea what they are, but they look like they could be additional weapons of some kind.

Coming from that point in the TransFormers franchise's history where C-clip weapons were a thing, Hailstorm has a pair of bars to accommodate these accessories on the upper/outer corners of the missile launchers, but wasn't packaged with any suitable weapons himself... Puzzling, all things considered, as it really seems as though more TransFormers figures were created to accommodate C-clip weapons than there were C-clip weapons to attach...

Hailstorm's backpack is something of an irritation, since it serves absolutely no purpose in robot mode, and is literally just an empty box hanging off his back, with a door that opens to facilitate transformation. Its presence harms his silhouette and, from the front, makes his body appear far more square and bulky around the waist than it actually is.

The head sculpt is intriguing, considering it's intended to reflect the movie aesthetic - and does so very well, Hailstorm and Brawl have a fairly similar look - it would look just as good on a TransFormers Prime figure. It's angular and very detailed, with interlocking and overlapping panels sculpted in, but it also has a more recognisably constructed 'face' look that would almost suit a military Vehicon if they weren't all basically faceless. He features quite a bit of gunmetal paint over the face, a gold central crest and his eyes are painted in an almost fluorescent orange/red. The overall effect is of a heavy-hitter powered as much by anger as energon - perfect for the toy.

Hailstorm is one of those toys where certain parts of the transformation are excellent, while other parts are pretty terrible. The design is certainly excellent, but the execution - particularly the compression of the upper body into robot mode - is very stiff on mine, and has a tendency to work on one side, but not the other, making the process of aligning the shoulders with the torso quite tricky. Everything else is pretty smooth and intuitive, though the groin is hinged to allow more movement than is required for transformation - with the backpack out of the way, it can move through a little over 90°, but its vehicle mode position is at about 45°. Vehicle mode holds together mostly very well, though the front end can be tricky to keep aligned as the feet don't peg together.

Some of his joints are fairly unusual, in that the shoulders are pinned in two separate places, one for outward movement, the other for rotation; the elbows are ball joints below a hinge that's technically only there for transformation, but can be used to supplement the movement of his arms; his hips are very stiff ball joints with excellent range, only occasionally hindered by his backpack. The thigh rotation is incredibly stiff compared to the average Deluxe, the knees bend in two places (the joint at the base of the thigh barely moves, and that really only for transformation, the joint at the top of the shin is the actual knee) and asymmetrically due to the vehicle mode cab being on the calf of the left leg, thus stopping that knee at about 90°. Due to transformation, Hailstorm has two-stage sideways ankle tilt and a few degrees of forward/backward tilt. Strange as some of the joints are, it's easy to get him into dynamic, powerful-looking pose, and he can hold a fairly wide stance, though the backpack and shoulder launchers can make him a touch top/back heavy. The only disappointment is the head, which is on a hinged ball joint. The hinge allows the head to be raised above the shoulders, but that looks a little unnatural. The ball joint barely permits any movement with the head in its ideal position, and the head has a tendency to pop off the joint when in its raised position.

On balance, I think Hailstorm is a fantastic TransFormers toy for its time and size class, the only real problem being... his size. Given his vehicle mode, he should have been a Voyager, at least, but Hasbro just weren't inclined to create very many non-movie characters in the larger size classes. In all fairness, one can't blame them on being so risk-averse... but it's still rather disappointing, as I'm sure something better could have been done with his backpack on a larger figure, and the upper body compression could have been better engineered. Compare Deluxe class Hailstorm to Leader class Brawl, and consider how awe-inspiring a toy Hailstorm could have been if he had been a larger size class, with a higher parts count... but preferably without the lights and sounds. Still, if you're not fussed about his size or scale versus other movie toys, Hailstorm is a hell of a lot of fun, and among the best toys of characters not in the movies.

No comments:

Post a Comment