Sunday, 19 May 2019

War For Cybertron: Siege Soundwave + Spy Patrol

Long-time readers of this blog may be aware that G1 Soundwave (& Buzzsaw) was the very first Decepticon toy I ever owned so, while I don't end up buying every iteration of the character, I do have a strong nostalgic connection to that particular physical form. Thus, when a Soundwave toy enters my collection, it tends to happen very much with reference to how it makes me feel versus the original. For example, Music Label Soundwave - who has been my Classics Soundwave for over a decade - was a decent reworking of the original, albeit on a smaller scale and with a poorly executed MP3 player gimmick installed. TF Prime Soundwave took an entirely different tack, and put the original character into a sinister, spindly new form. I didn't bother with the Titans Return version as it lost too much of what makes Soundwave Soundwave in service of the line's HeadMaster and base mode gimmicks...

...But here we have a new Soundwave for the latest chapter of Generations, taking the character back to his pre-G1 state, but not taking any cues from the War for Cybertron videogame and instead focussing on his G1 appearance, but with what passes for 'a fresh spin' at Hasbro these days.

I knew going in that I wasn't going to like this toy, but I'd had £30 of Forbidden Planet vouchers in my wallet since last year, and no clue what to do with them, so I took the opportunity to pick up this toy - and the 'Soundwave Spy Patrol' set of Ravage and Laserbeak - for next to nothing... And since I don't feel that one has much value without the other, I'm going to write about them together.

Vehicle Mode:
I really don't know what to say about this other than "it's a mess". I mean, unsuitable though it may have been in some ways, at least the WfC videogame Soundwave toy transformed into a coherent vehicle... This is basically just a brick with some boxy protrusions underneath and what could be Star Trek-style nacelles sticking out at angles from the top - as if the special effects budget for the show had been reduced to the point of using cardboard boxes. It reminds me most of all of the 'vehicle' form of Titans Return Alpha Trion in that it's not quite an aircraft carrier, but the front two thirds of the thing provide a large, flat surface (albeit with the line's excessive sculpted panel lining), while the back end is a jumble of loosely-associated parts that still don't quite resemble a vehicle.

The front end is blunt, with sculpted detail that could represent missile pods, escape hatches or some sort of audio output (the latter being at least somewhat consistent with the character), the sides reveal the robot's arms (on the undercarriage) and legs ('disguised' by a pair of flaps over the thighs) with robot mode detailing and paintwork on full show, while the back shows off the traditional old 'tape door' panel and its hideously excessive battle damage - very much as though Soundwave took a massive impact to his chest and hasn't bothered to get it fixed yet - which obscures some of the sculpted detail on the inner face of the door and on the walls of the cavity inside Soundwave's chest. Roughly in the middle of the top is the tiniest cockpit canopy you could imagine which, along with that surfeit of sculpted detail, throws any sense of the vehicle's scale into doubt - in theory, it wouldn't be particularly big compared to, say, one of the Tetrajet Seekers... but that cockpit alone makes Soundwave seem comparatively collossal. Throwing off the scale even further, the insides of the wrists appear to feature sculpted bay doors, making Soundwave appear something like an ugly, boxy reimagining of the starship Unicron provides Galvatron in TransFormers: The Movie.

The nacelles each feature a pair of gunmetal-painted afterburner-type protrusions at the rear, while the fronts have black-framed, silver-painted angled panels. The arms are more than a little flimsy and, due to the vaguaries of plastic tolerance, one of the nacelles on mine is both very much inclined to pop off and disinclined to sit comfortably at what I'm assuming is the correct angle. They break up the boxiness of his silhouette to a small degree but, since they're little more than boxes themselves, they're not a significant improvement. He also has the most perfunctory of landing skids I've ever seen and, given that I don't see any means of providing lift for this vehicle - the nacelles don't rotate - I'm struggling to understand how this though would ever get airborne.

Siege's 'battle damage' paintwork seems to have hit Soundwave's vehicle mode squarely on the front end, with extensive gunmetal 'scuffing' over the upper and outer surfaces of the blue nose section, though the very front and the underside have been spared any disfiguring. This paintwork partly obscures some of the detail paintwork - the black, ridged panels in the middle of each half of the nose - but it skips the silver section entirely before reappearing at the very back, where it covers the area behind the cockpit almost as extensively. Vastly more subtle are the applications of a darker paint to the robot's arms on the undercarriage but, frankly, the extent of the faux-drybrushing on the top of the vehicle only serves to highlight how ridiculous its absence elsewhere really is.

Weapons-wise, Soundwave's traditional Concussion Blaster gun has been renamed 'HI-KEP', while his missile launcher is now known as 'LR-HD'. These plug into the 5mm sockets on his nacelles, and add to the overall chunkiness of his appearance without ever managing to look like weapons, even if you leave the tip of the HI-KEP deployed. A third weapon - the imaginatively named 'EXMT' - can be attached to the side of the vehicle, effectively inside Soundwave's armpit, but it has to remain folded up due to the position of its handle and points backwards because it uses the sight as its mounting peg. Weirdly, his landing skids appear to have gunbarrels on them, so it could be argued that he has an additional two front-facing guns and two rear-facing guns... but I'm not sure that's the intention.

Additionally, the button that operates the cassette door is still accessible in this mode but the door is hinged in such a way that, without the robot's body being in the way, it swings down through more than 180°. If he's resting on a surface, it almost acts as a storage bay door... but otherwise, it's just an unwieldy flap on the rear of the vehicle.

One odd thing I've noticed about this vehicle - and I'm not sure if it's a tolerance issue somewhere - is that the front end angles up very slightly from the hips once the thigh plates are pegged into place. Everything's pegged properly into place - including the small tabs at the tips of the thigh plates into the slots on the underside of the back plate - and there's no obvious sign of plastic stress anywhere (yet), but it's definitely not sitting straight...

Robot Mode:
It can hardly be argued that G1 Soundwave wasn't boxy... but when one considers the versions of the character produced since, it seems bizarre that this latest incarnation of the original character features so many right angles. Honestly, the problem with so many of the Siege toys I've seen so far is that I can't help but think of those wooden 'Puzzleman' toys, where a collection of strung-together cubes can turn from a larger cube into a roughly humanoid shape made out of cubes... And the hyper-intricate sculpted detail isn't so much distracting as just plain ugly.

Still, he's very recognisably Soundwave, with the large, gold-framed door in his chest and control buttons on his groin. He's vastly smaller than his forebear, but feels chunkier due to the proportionally thicker, squarer lower legs and shorter, wider feet... weirdly, along with the 'battle damage' paintwork, the bottom half of Soundwave makes me think of someone wearing exceedingly baggy jeans and chunky moon boots. One of the features the design team were intent on keeping from the G1 toy - and apparently super proud of in this toy - is the push-button release for his chest door... though the spring on mine seems a little too tightly-wound, to the point where the upper torso is pushed away from the lower torso when the door opens, as the two pegs positioned to restrict its movement actually act as a fulcrum, and the tabs that connect the two halves of the torso aren't strong enough to resist the power of the spring. This is of course going to vary from figure to figure, but it's a little disappointing that the waist connection wasn't made more secure.

I think my biggest gripe with this version of Soundwave has actually turned out to be his unnecessary backpack, which is bulked up by the vehicle mode's nacelles. Had this toy's alternate mode been better-planned, there wouldn't have been a backpack - or it could at least have been made more compact - but, instead, Soundwave is lumbered with what ends up looking like an inverted jet pack that, thanks to the same plastic tolerance issues that cause problems with the position of his nacelles in vehicle mode, doesn't stay particularly well tabbed in. Massive backpacks are nothing new in TransFormers toys, but when these parts appear superfluous in both vehicle and robot mode, it's a clear sign that the figure needed a bit more development time. Similarly, the landing skids fold back behind his shoulders and onto his forearms, with the latter looking particularly ugly, like badly-implemented robotic flared sleeves. I rather wish there had been some way to fold them into the forearm to fill in the vast chasms vacated by his hands.

As far as paintwork goes, his lower legs are the clear winners, with black paint on the lower shins (covering the areas vacated by his feet on the G1 toy), then gold-ish paint on the angled, vented section at the top of the shin, with a silver panel of recessed tech detail just below the knee joint. Within this, a set of circular raised details are picked out with metallic pink and a metallic yellow which is distinct from the gold paint used below, seemingly as a nod to sticker detail on the original toy. Sadly, while the knee joints themselves feature sculpted detail representing elements of the sticker detail from the G1 toy, there's no paint there or anywhere on the grey plastic of the upper legs. Also, there's no paint on the insides of the flaps that fold down to the outsides of Soundwave's lower legs, so all the sculpted tech detail seems a bit wasted, and much of the battle damage paintwork from his vehicle mode ends up covered with pristine blue plastic.

The forearms feature a smattering of battle damage paint applications and rings of red paint around the cuffs, while the sculpted detail both here and on the upper arms is entirely unpainted. As has become the norm, Reprolabels have produced a set of upgrade stickers to add much of the missing G1 sticker detailing, but I feel a better balance could have been struck with Siege Soundwave's paintwork and sculpting... Toning down the sculpted detail and adding a few more spot applications of paint would have done him wonders... The battle damage - particularly the 'shattered glass' effect on his chest door - is far too distracting, and some of the sculpted detail represents things that shouldn't necessarily be present on a Cybertronian Soundwave who doesn't turn into a microcassette recorder - not least the tape direction arrow on the chest door and the spool/gearing detail on the inside of his chest.

Naturally, Soundwave is designed to interact with Ravage and Laserbeak in the multitude of ways one would expect for this combination of characters within a toyline based around Micromasters interacting with larger 'bots... but, aside from the obvious ejecting from Soundwave's chest, Ravage doesn't really do much beyond - per the instructions - plugging into one of the 5mm ports on Soundwave's arms (though the legs or backpack are also available). Laserbeak, meanwhile, can perch happily on Soundwave's arms thanks to a set of indentations on the latter, and small pegs on the 'claws' of the former. I suppose both could be attached to Soundwave's feet, but Ravage's 5mm peg is right on one edge of his alternate mode, while Laserbeak's is closer to the middle, so they don't make the best platform shoes in the line...

The main two weapons are exactly what you'd expect from Soundwave: a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher and a hand-held blaster, both of which closely resemble the G1 toy's accessories, albeit without the latter's extending body and chromed tip. On the upside, the handgun is a decent size without the extension, and the shoulder-mounted launcher now has a hinge to allow it to tilt upward as long as it's not pushed in too far, though it will clash with his backpack in almost any position. Each one is decorated with a red stripe round each end, but these look as if they were meant to have been applied to the indentations just short of the ends... At least, I think it'd have looked cleaner that way. The red also seems fairly translucent, appearing more purplish on his blue weapons. None of the other sculpted detail - even the tips of the missiles protruding from the launcher - are painted, and the typical 'grey masquerading as silver/chrome' is hugely disappointing. In terms of function, I quite like the way the HI-KEP's tip collapses into its body when not in use, though the very end still protrudes even when it's pushed all the way in. His additional weapon, the EXMT, makes for quite a chunky pistol, almost like a blunderbuss, and also acts as a bridge between the HI-KEP and the LR-HD, to make Soundwave's weird gestalt weapon, the USW HF... a sort of unwieldy rifle thing that Soundwave can hold two-handed, but only directed to one side or the other due to the way the handles are arranged and the lack of movement in his wrists. I guess it's an interesting feature but, aside from the Tech Specs-style readouts in the instruction booklet, there's no information about what these guns actually do... so you just have to default to assuming they're as per the G1 toy, with the extra weapon serving to combine them into a super-powered... something-or-other.

Probably the biggest saving grace on this toy is the head sculpt - I couldn't imagine a better update of the G1 toy's head, given the way it's always been portrayed in the comics and cartoons. While it no longer so closely resembles the Decepticon insignia, it does have the G1 toy's short 'hat brim' over the visor, and the central crest looks just right. Molded mostly in blue plastic, and with stunning translucent yellow light piping, the only paintwork is three applications of silver paint over the bottom half of his face - one one each of the side parts and one on the large mouthplate. If they'd included the blue band that crossed the G1 toy's face below the visor, and its little triangular cutout from the top of the mouthplate, I'd have considered it nigh on perfect... though the overall shape is closer to the Masterpiece version, and some of the mechanical detail of the original has been replaced with simple vents and panel lining. I'd also quibble the fact that the mouthplate protrudes so far he almost looks like an Optimus Prime variant wearing a visor. Still, I think the only times a Soundwave figure has received a better head sculpt were the more original takes on the character - Galaxy Force and TF Prime.

Because of his nondescript so-called 'vehicle' form, transformation is remarkably lazy, but not without a few interesting steps. One feature I particularly like is that the feet fold into the calves, and the plate that fills out the backs of his lower legs actually includes a separate hinged piece that then covers the tips of his toes at the front of the vehicle. Some of it - notably the double hinges at the waist and on his backpack, feel a little flimsy and excessive, and many fans have been upset by the transformation of the arms, because it means a 'boombox' fanmode requires the arms to be removed on the stock figure. The landing skids also feel a little redundant, on the whole, while the sheer number of visible robot parts in vehicle mode is very disappointing considering how tidily most other Soundwave toys transform.

Alternate Transformations:
Neither work that well, to be honest - the 'traditional' version requires the removal of his arms (though they serve to prop him up by wedging them in at the back), while the 'Cybertronian comms station' version just ends up looking like a smaller, stockier spacecraft when viewed from 'behind' because the landing skids are still acting as a stand.

Additionally, the 'secret' lamp post mode - shown in the first two photos below, and in a single image craftily hidden away on one of the flaps of the box - looks nothing like G1 Soundwave's disguise from the TV show's pilot. This can be improved with a few minor changes (second pair of photos below), but I'm at a loss as to what to do with his weapons - particularly the EMXT - in this form.

On the upside, Siege Soundwave has excellent articulation, and virtually all the joints on mine are nice and tight - no sagging arms under the weight of his weapons, no problems holding a dramatic stance... though I am a little disappointed with his ankles. Due to the extra piece from the front of his vehicle mode, he has no back/forward ankle tilt, and the sideways tilt is very much restricted by the design of the lower leg. However, even if the obstructive chunks of vehicle shell are removed from their hiding place inside the calves, the foot transformation joints just don't make convincing ankle joints anyway, as the joint is right at the front of the shin. Everything else seems great, from the hinged plates in front of his hips that move out of the way to accommodate forward swing of the legs, to the freely-rotating waist joint, to the double-jointed elbows and bicep rotation that allow the extended index finger of his left hand to actually reach the eject button atop his chest. All it's really missing is wrist rotation... but even with that, Seige Soundwave would make a better Soundwave action figure than a Soundwave TransFormer...

...Because, however you slice it, this is a truly unimaginative new Soundwave figure... and it's no surprise that the first thing fans have tried to do is create a boombox-style fanmode. Due to the way the arms work, these generally involve actually removing the arms, but a Third-Party company is producing add-on parts that allow the arms to slide into a new piece, plugged in behind the shoulder joint. There's an alternative form achieved by transforming the legs in a different, less G1-styled way but, basically, this thing was intended to transform into a nondescript brick... which I think is pretty pathetic given what's come before... But, then, that's my impression of much of the Siege line so far.

Alternate Mode:
Um... Yeah... So it's a boxy... thing... Unlike the G1 version - and even the version packaged with Classics Hound, let alone the Titans Return version with its horrifically peely 'screen' stickers, appeared to represent some sort of real-world object, however vague and indistinct it was (though I'm pretty sure the only reason Classics Ravage wasn't described as a cassette was that Hasbro felt no-one would have known what a cassette was by that point). This thing looks like something halfway between one of those wanky 'Gamer' PCs - its casing all style over substance - and a lap tray, and being studded with metal pins and grey plastic clips really doesn't help.

On the underside, Ravage's legs look like interlocking clips of indeterminate function but, on the upside, the head is completely hidden... beneath his pelvis. His only means of interacting with Siege toys other than Soundwave is a 5mm peg that folds out from the underside (the back of the robot's neck, in fact) but, to be honest, I think I'd struggle to find any useful way of attaching him to another Siege figure... Better to simply slot him into Soundwave's chest...

Robot Mode:
Far from being his usual slinky, stealthy self, Siege Ravage is what I believe the young people of today would call "a chonky boy". His upper legs - front and back - are massive blocks, while the lower legs are little more than grey sticks. From the sides, he looks almost passable but from any other angle he's an ugly mess that could almost get away with being described as a small quadruped robot wearing large armoured panniers over both pairs of legs. His weapons - which look more like movie Ravage's guns that G1 Ravage's missile pods - are integrated into the tops of his legs, and so tend to point wherever his hips are directed, though the range of the hip tends to keep them angled upward.

Paintwork is strategically applied and surprisingly extensive for so small a toy, with panels of silver on all four upper legs - applied in such a way as to suggest the flow of his legs from shoulder to paw - and down his back, more silver coating his guns, a purple panel in his spine, and even spots of red for his eyes.

There's one rather obvious feature missing from this robo-beast, however: his tail. Perhaps even worse than that, though, is the head. It's detailed enough but, like Ravage in the Bumblebee movie, looks more lupine than feline... I'm starting to wonder if the designer has ever seen a cat... or if they were denied access to Google Imagesearch. Then again, perhaps so many people these days believe Ravage is a dog, Hasbro are simply bowing to popular opinion. It also loses a few points by having a grey chunk of plastic in the top of the neck. It's the 'handle' from his alternate mode but, since the purpose of his alternate mode is so vague, I'm not sure why it was even needed. Ravage and Laserbeak could easily have been exempted from that particular necessity of the Micromaster size class.

Of the two dinky minions, Ravage certainly has the more fiddly transformation because some parts have to fold over and around others. It's one of those precious few situations where following the instructions - which are pretty clear, for a change - yields the best results, and trying to do it any other way results in a mess of clashing parts and the feeling that something is about to break. It works similarly to the Classics version, with Ravage's legs folding around a central body chunk, but feels very flimsy due to the size and the types of plastic used. The end result is a nondescript chunk of plastic - maybe an armour panel (the instructions recommend attaching them to Soundwave's shoulders), maybe a briefcase... but, where it was clear in G1 that Soundwave's minions were information-gatherers with alternate modes that facilitated data storage, the purpose of these things remains a mystery

Given the size of the toy, Ravage is actually reasonably well articulated, with shoulders and hips pinned and plastic clip knees, while the neck can hinge up and down as a result of its transformation joint. I wouldn't necessarily describe him as poseable, but you can certainly get him into a seated position, even if he can't easily be posed mid-pounce. Designed to be stored inside Soundwave's chest, he's a remarkably tight fit, to the point where I find it easier to push him in from behind the door, rather than slotting him in from the top.

Alternate Mode:
Much like Ravage, Laserbeak becomes a sort of high-tech lap tray but, where Ravage seems to be fully covered with armour, Laserbeak seems to have traded protection for lightness, and features the sort of exposed mechanical/electronic detail represented by stickers on the G1 toy. He also features the somewhat simplified colourscheme of the Masterpiece figure, so the exposed sections are painted with blocks of either red or silver, with some raised edges highlighted with silver.

He's more colourful than Ravage, but also means his robot form is somewhat less disguised, even on what is ostensibly the 'front' of this form. A pair of red boosters are visible on one of the two long edges, while his feet are clearly visible splayed out on the 'back'. Granted, they weren't trying to replicate a microcassette, a datapad, or any piece of real-world technology but I'm sure both of these Micromaster figures could have been given a more coherent alternate mode.

Robot Mode:
Strangely, this is probably the first version of Laserbeak to actually get anywhere close to being an anatomically correct representation of a bird, with the wings protruding from just behind the base of the neck rather than halfway down the torso. As such, he looks really weird at first glance. We're pretty much used to Laserbeak - and Buzzsaw, of course - looking more like a living jet aircraft, but the way he was animated led us all to believe he was a robotic bird. What makes this one all the more fun is that he has a head sculpt based on his simpler, Cybertronian appearance from the pilot of the TV show... And it always struck me as strange that Laserbeak's robot animation model was the only one to go through any significant change between the brief view of life on Cybertron and the portion of the Autobot/Decepticon conflict set on Earth.

Naturally, he's a very simplistic figure - the wings and legs don't really do anything once deployed - but, like Ravage, he follows the Masterpiece route of having built-in weapons. In this case, it's a silver-painted chunk of plastic that folds over his body from behind, revealing a third tiny booster at the back. It doesn't have the vent panels on the front, and the bits on the sides that I'm taking to be guns really don't look the part... but the effort is appreciated nonetheless. Despite the simpler head, with its yellow visor rather than eyes, he has vastly more sculpted detail overall, and is probably my favourite of the two.

That said, while I get that a smaller figure comes with a smaller paint budget, someone clearly spent a lot of time and effort on the tech detail here, and it seems very accurate to the G1 toy's stickers. A bit more variety in the colour, and a few extra spot applications on some of the raised details would have really worked wonders for this figure, raising it up from merely 'acceptable' to something truly special in this size class.

Laserbeak's transformation is incredibly simple - fold out the head, wings, legs, fold up the booster - but he (arguably) ends up looking better than his G1 and Masterpiece equivalents. That said, he's very small and has no real articulation beyond the pair of hinges in his neck - one at the base, one at the back of the head. I do rather wish they'd risked a ball joint for one of them.

As well as storing (like Ravage, very snugly) inside Soundwave's chest, Laserbeak can be perched on his outstretched arm thanks to the 'claws' on his feet a set of matching indentations sculpted onto the outer faces of both of his master's forearms. It's not a great fit, and he has a tendency to pop off but, again, it's a nice feature to include, and I think Soundwave definitely benefits by this feature.

So... I said at the start that I knew I wasn't going to like Siege Soundwave - based on both photos and video reviews already online - but, in hand, he's almost endearing. If only some of the effort that went into preserving his robot mode appearance had gone into giving him a better alternate mode, he could have been excellent. Somehow, the inclusion of lamp post mode doesn't quite make up for the poor choices made.

What I don't quite understand - except from the money-grubbing, corporate point of view - is why he was packaged with a nondescript, hinged stick of a tertiary weapon rather than, say, a repaint of Laserbeak as his G1 pack-in minion Buzzsaw. Without any Micromaster minions, Soundwave feels a little pointless... but even with just one, he would have felt much more worth the £24-ish price tag, not least because there are Deluxe class toys from a few years ago that are larger and more substantial than this new Voyager class figure.

That said, I think he fits well enough with Classics toys that he can safely replace my Music Label Soundwave on my mixed Generations shelf. He's a genuinely fun toy, despite the crappy vehicle mode and the awful, gimmicky battle damage paintwork. I like him more than I'd expected, particularly when taken as a set with his 'Spy Patrol' Micromasters... but sadly not enough to get me excited about the rest of the Siege line.

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