A large part of what makes role playing games so addictive is that —rather than just telling a story— they let you, the player, have a part in the narrative. Hence the words "role playing" in the name of the genre, right? Not many developers come up with RPG stories like BioWare. The studio has produced some less-than-stellar titles over the year, including Dragon Age II, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, and more recently Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is being met with mixed feelings to say the very least. (I thought Andromeda was unbelievable, but it seems like many people disagree). Still, most of the work that has come out of the company is gold.
Quite possibly the finest achievement of the company is the original Mass Effect trilogy. This epic space adventure took us throughout our galaxy on a quest to destroy (or control, or synthesize with) a demonic race of alien spacecraft hell-bent on destroying all life in the galaxy. Throughout the game, there are incredible characters from weird and interesting alien species, along with awesome fellow humans and some creatures we don't know how to describe and numerous evil antagonists that make life complicated.
Among them is a man who spends his time at the helm of a pragmatic company seeking to preserve humanity's place in the galaxy known as Cerberus. We know little about him, and as such we know him only as "The Illusive Man." While he does occupy plenty of time in the series, he remains somewhat of an enigma to most players: here are fifteen things you probably didn't know about The Illusive Man.
15 He's Central To Several Mass Effect Comic Books
Like any science fiction franchise that gains an enthusiastic and large fan base, Mass Effect has gone beyond the first medium. While it hasn't reached the merchandising status of Star Wars, there have been some amazing comics and novels written that fill in some of the stories around the main story of the original trilogy.
Most of the literature available deals with the periods between Mass Effect 2 and 3, and a few comics (and a couple of the novels) feature the Illusive Man in a prominent role. If he's a favorite character of yours, Mass Effect: Evolution is a comic series that tells his story.
14 His Previous Life
He wasn't always so illusive, and in fact, lived a fairly normal life in his earlier years. One could say that there are two of him: the one that existed before the First Contact War, and the version of himself from afterward. Prior to this period, he was a family man, and rather than his infamous moniker, he went by his original name: Jack Harper. Jack worked as a mercenary for a number of years, but the next half of his life started during the First Contact War, when the Turians and Humans went toe-to-toe in 2157, marking the first time Humans encountered life other than our own. People change. Still, it's hard to imagine a less enigmatic Illusive Man.
13 His Appearance Explained
There are several very minor details of this character that were intended to make him stand out from the rest of the human characters in the game. His suit is supposed to convey a sense of flawless style and class, and the fact that he doesn't wear a tie, with an open jacket was to have the effect of showing that he does what he wants. His eyes, which definitely look "unique" are another way in which he stands out; they are prosthetic, a necessity after he was exposed to a Reaper artifact during the First Contact War. The Illusive Man is very composed, which shows his need for control and order.
12 His Experience In The First Contact War
The First Contact War was relatively short, and ended with less than a thousand dead on both sides. The fighting happened in space battles and on the planet Shanxi. It was on this planet that Ashley Williams' grandfather surrendered to Turian forces, for those who remember that character and her backstory.
The Illusive Man, then Jack Harper, and his mercenary colleagues, Eva Core and Ben Hislop, worked for General Williams in this conflict, and carried out a mission in which they found the aforementioned artifact. The Turians hoped to use this artifact to turn their entire race into super-beings that could take control of the entire galaxy, but with the help of a Turian named Saren Arturius (yes, that one) were able to stop this plan.
11 Vices (His Choice Poison)
More often than not, when Shepard is having his little discussions and arguments with The Illusive Man, the latter has a drink and/or cigarette on the go. Despite the fact that he indulges in these two activities, both of which are known to cause advanced aging in people, he looks good for a man in his mid 50's.
We don't know what brand of cigarette he prefers, or that he is even smoking tobacco (wink), but we do get a brief hint as to what kind of booze he is swirling. According to crew member Ken Donnelly, The Illusive Man's exact brand is unclear, but he is fond of American bourbon. Donnelly also says that his own preference is for Islay Scotch for its peaty, smoky flavor.
10 Founding Cerberus
It was during the First Contact War that humans first encountered other intelligent life. The war didn't last long, and through the war, humans met the Council, and officially became a part of galactic politics, but at the same time, learned that the galaxy is dangerous. As such, Jack Harper began building a network after the war, which would become Cerberus. His motivation was to advocate for human interests by any means necessary (including sabotage, assassination, and whatever else it would take). After his experience with the Turians, it became clear to Harper that if humanity did not carve a place for itself in the galaxy, a genocide would be in its future.
9 The View From His "Office"
There were plenty of theories floating around the Mass Effect community speculating where the Illusive Man's base could be found in the galaxy. Years of anticipation after Mass Effect 2 left a lot of room for fan-theories to take shape. Remember, before ME3, all we knew about the base was that it was empty, futuristic-looking, had tons of tech, no other people and something cool going on in the background. Well, in
Well, in ME3 we found out it was Cronos Station in the Anadius system of the Horsehead Nebula. The "something cool going on in the background" is a view of the dying star in the system: a massive red supergiant. Stars that look like this one have burned through all the hydrogen in their core, and have started onto the helium. This star is 1,500 times the size of Sol, which will reach this stage in its life in an estimated five billion years.
8 Andromeda Connection?
The most recent game in the series, Andromeda, started a new story in the Mass Effect universe. Mass Effect: Andromeda takes us to a different galaxy, 600 years in the future. We'll steer clear of any significant spoilers here because the game is still relatively new. There are a few subtle things that can be found throughout this game that refer to Cerberus and the Illusive Man.
There are two theories that link him to this new story. The first of these is that one of your squadmates is Cora Harper, a woman with powerful biotic abilities. They share the same name, but her backstory does not seem to support the idea of her being related to a man of such means.
There is also some speculation that the Illusive Man could have some connection to or involvement with the Benefactor. Again, the theory isn't very well developed, as there is so little information available about the Benefactor at this point.
It seems unlikely that either of these theories are true, but they are interesting.
7 Neither Good Nor Evil
Like we said in our introduction, the appeal of role-playing games comes from the fact that we can put ourselves into the narrative. In essence, the player character in a game like the ME trilogy becomes us, the player. It is interesting, however, that the Illusive Man was created with the intention of not being a complete villain or a complete hero. He occupies a gray area: an enemy at one point, but a character with whom you are forced to work during ME2. This was all on purpose, and BioWare wanted to keep the Illusive Man as difficult to deal with as possible: anyone playing the game will hate and like him at different points. He is intended to be neither completely good or bad, and ultimately, possesses many extreme traits of humanity: aggressiveness, ambition, and stubbornness.
6 He Became A Fan Favorite
If you played through the Mass Effect trilogy, and consider The Illusive Man one of your very favourite characters, you're not alone. His story is impressive, exciting, and terrifying at the same time. Due to his actions and impact on the second two games of the series, he is widely considered one of the best video game characters since 2000. His name may include the term "illusive," but despite the fact that not much information is given about this man in the games, he added so much to the experience that we can't blame players who consider him a favorite. The Illusive Man's mysterious motivations —coupled with a phenomenal voice-over performance— made him a fascinating character to follow.
5 Lazarus Project
The opening scene of Mass Effect 2 is about as intense as a video game can start. You're excited, looking at all sorts of familiar faces, amped up for a new galactic mission, and then you get helplessly torn to shreds by an unknown and seemingly omnipotent alien spacecraft, culminating with a dead Shepard floating through space.
Seconds later you wake up and start the game. While we find out that the Illusive Man funded a mission to find Shep's body and then reanimate it, the game only tells us superficial information. Here are some lesser known tidbits of information about this undertaking.
It cost four billion credits and took two years to complete the reconstruction, which required a complete rebuild: including skeletal structure, circulatory system, and of course, vital organs. The group in charge of this project was called Lazarus Cell, and after it was sabotaged by Wilson, Miranda and Jacob were the only surviving members.
Cerberus cloned Shepard with the intention of using that clone for spare parts if needed, but that clone was reprogrammed by a disgruntled employee and sent to kill Shepard (this is a mission in ME3)
Finally, if you're looking for a detailed account of how this project actually went down and Liara T'Soni's involvement, check out the comic Mass Effect: Redemption - Issue 1.
4 Some Other Illusive Man Theories
We already discussed the very likely idea that there is a connection between The Illusive Man and the story of Mass Effect: Andromeda. There are, however, some other interesting theories about him and the finale of Mass Effect 3.
The first of these is Indoctrination Theory, and while we may never know (the only way to know is for BioWare to address this) whether it is true, it is certainly plausible. In short, this idea says that neither the Illusive Man or David Anderson were present in that final scene of Mass Effect 3. Rather, the entire exchange took place in Shepard's head, and what he saw of Anderson and the Illusive Man was just an inner battle over whether to control or destroy the Reapers, which wouldn't matter anyway because our hero was already under Reaper control.
If that first theory is not true, however, there is another speculative theory about at what point Illusive Man actually became indoctrinated. While we are led to believe that he only came under the control of the Reapers late in ME3, some have suggested that his indoctrination occurred back during the First Contact War when he came into contact with that Reaper artifact, and that the Reapers controlled him for decades while he built Cerberus.
While the voice of Illusive Man is Martin Sheen, the creative minds behind the character (along with Sheen) have all said the basis for his looks and personality come from other people. There is a theory that the character was based on the looks of a younger Martin Sheen, but the creators never actually confirmed anything. Others have suggested that actor Jon Briddell bares more of a resemblance.
For his personality, there is some speculation that he was developed based on the "Smoking Man," made famous in the X-Files series. He was meant to be someone about whom we know very little; a powerful but enigmatic character whose input into the game (much like the Smoking Man in the show) can be interpreted as morally ambiguous.
To be more exact, however, the creative team's goal was to make a character whose power dwarfed the influence of political leaders, but who remained as "behind the scenes" as possible.
2 Martin Sheen and Illusive Man
While his son Charlie is one of the most intriguing train wrecks (we say this with love of course) the world has ever known, Martin Sheen is one of the true gems of show business. Sheen's careers started out in the 1960s and is still going, including film appearances, television, and tons of documentaries. He has only used his voice for two video games; Mass Effect 2 and 3. In a brief interview, Sheen shared some information about his experience being the voice for Cerberus' leader. He first said that the Illusive man is untrustworthy and described him as a "horrible man," but also said that he had to simulate smoking by sucking on a pen, as Illusive Man was a smoker, but Sheen is not.
1 That Final Scene
The finale of Mass Effect 3 remains one of the most controversial that the world of gaming has ever seen. It was agonizing for many of us, no matter what ending we chose, and what our preparedness was like. The adventure had come to an end, and that final battle for Earth was an emotional one. With our gaming adrenaline completely depleted, our character on screen, we had our final showdown with the Catalyst. We made our choice and watched as humanity became one with the Reapers, took control of them, or destroyed them altogether.
But before that fateful choice, Shepard had a final showdown with the Illusive Man, in which he revealed his intention to use the Reapers. He thought he could control them but ended up raving like a madman, after being indoctrinated. As Shepard, the choice was in the hands of the player whether to let him shoot himself, or save him the trouble and take care of it yourself.
The original thought, however, was that the Illusive Man would be the final bad guy over whom to trample before the end of the game. The plan was for him to actually become a Reaper during the battle to retake Earth, but this idea was scrapped. The lack of a fight between Shepard and the Illusive Man is primarily because the latter was never meant to be a physical threat, but a threat due to his intelligence.