Illusive Man

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The Illusive Man
Mass Effect character
First appearance Mass Effect: Ascension (2008)
First game Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Voiced by Martin Sheen

The Illusive Man is a fictional character in BioWare's Mass Effect video game franchise. He is the leader of the pro-human group Cerberus. The Illusive Man wears an open suit that connotes both futuristic style and the "casual swagger of a charming billionaire". His eye implants make him appear slightly inhuman. He is normally seen in an empty office with no indication of his living arrangements. He is voiced by Martin Sheen.

The character first appeared in 2008's novel Ascension, and made his video game debut in Mass Effect 2 as a supporting character. In the game, he arranges to revive Commander Shepard from death, provides Shepard with a ship and crew, and sends Shepard on several missions against the human-abducting Collectors. The Illusive Man later appears in Mass Effect 3 as one of the main antagonists, where he works against Shepard's attempts to destroy the Reapers, wishing to control them instead. He appears in several other Mass Effect comics series and novels. Mass Effect: Evolution tells his origin story.

His critical reception has been positive, with Martin Sheen praised for his voice acting. However, some criticized Mass Effect 2's story for forcing the player to work with the Illusive Man and Cerberus despite their antagonistic role in the first game.

Concept and characteristics[edit]

Martin Sheen provides the voice for the Illusive Man.

The Illusive Man is the leader of Cerberus, a pro-human group officially regarded as a terrorist organisation by the Citadel Council and the humans' Systems Alliance.[1] The character was voiced by Martin Sheen in both Mass Effect 2 and 3.[2] According to Casey Hudson, Sheen really got into the role.[3][4] Sheen has said he would suck on a pen to simulate smoking when recording lines, as he himself did not smoke.[5]

At one point, the Illusive Man was planned as the boss fight for Mass Effect 3, having been altered by the Reapers. However, this was changed to avoid a clichéd ending.[6] Additionally, BioWare felt it did not fit the Illusive Man—the Illusive Man's "weapon" being his intelligence, not physical strength—and wanted to let the player fight a character they recognised.[7]


His face was based off a catalog model, a decision made early in his development.[7] He is largely symmetrical, and is meant to appear almost "perfect".[8] He smokes, drinks, and is in his fifties but shows no signs of age due to in-universe medical improvements.[7] His eye implants were designed to make him appear slightly inhuman.[7] These implants are explained in Evolution as the result of interaction with a mysterious artifact that huskified those who directly touched it.[9] For his indoctrinated appearance in Mass Effect 3, numerous facial concepts were drawn to determine just how much the character had been indoctrinated, with some referencing Saren Arterius (the main antagonist of the first Mass Effect game).[7]

His suit was designed to both be recognizable as a suit and to combine "an impeccable futuristic style" and "the casual swagger of a charming billionaire".[10] While the suit was designed with futuristic style in mind, it also had to not fit into any particular decade.[7] It was decided that the Illusive Man's suit should be open, in order to give the impression he could do whatever he pleased.[7]

The Illusive Man's main setting is his spacious and barren office. His personal quarters are never shown. The holographic computer terminals surrounding his office desk serve two functions: to show his connection to "a vast web of information" while decreasing his humanity for only communicating through holograms. He does not see actual people, but rather only facsimiles of them. His office view of a dying star reinforces his desire for full control of his environment. Only a small amount of concept art was made for the Illusive Man's room.[7]

I look at the Illusive Man as a searcher, someone plumbing the mysteries of the galaxy—but with a specific mindset to his approach. He's sure there's a darker side to some of the great things humanity's discovered, and he's rushing to find what that is before it's too late. His adventures force him to be a jack-of-all-trades—part xenobiologist, part intelligence agent, part archaeologist.

John Jackson Miller[11]

Personality and traits[edit]

The Illusive Man is described as believing "the end justifies the means",[12][13] and was made to be morally gray.[14] John Jackson Miller, who penned the script for Mass Effect: Evolution, Invasion, and Redemption, personally viewed him as a searcher that saw a "darker side to some of the great things humanity's discovered", the object of his search.[11] During the course of the games, the writers did not want to reveal too much about him. His character development's "basic idea" was "one of these guys we don't know much about". BioWare considered his backstory and motivations, but could not elaborate in the games due to this narrative technique.[11]

A "shadowy puppetmaster", he is also a smoker, a womaniser and a drinker, but is very charming.[8] This helps him serve as a foil to the Commander.[8] Adrien Cho, producer for Mass Effect 2, described him as being both the best and worst traits of humanity rolled into one person.[8]


In video games[edit]

Mass Effect 2, a 2010 action role-playing video game, marked the Illusive Man's first in-game appearance. The player character and protagonist, Commander Shepard, is recalled to life by the Illusive Man's Cerberus after being killed by an unknown ship at the end of the first game. The Illusive Man debriefs and tells Shepard about how the someone has been abducting human colonies and may be working with the Reapers, a sentient machine race dedicated to wiping out all organic life.[15] In order to help Shepard launch an assault on the Reaper base, he provides the Commander with a ship, crew, and dossiers on potential squadmates. Over the course of the game, he sends Shepard to investigate Freedom's Progress, a recently abducted colony where Shepard discovers that the Collectors are behind the attack;[15][16] Horizon, a colony in the process of being abducted;[17] and a Collector ship, which turns out to be a trap—one that the Illusive Man knew about.[18][19] At the end of the game, the Illusive Man sends Shepard to the Collector base, where the player decides whether to disable and turn over the base, or to destroy the base and cut all ties with Cerberus.[20]

The character returns in the game's sequel, Mass Effect 3, released on March 6, 2012. He is first seen as a hologram on Mars when Shepard is retrieving data to stop the concurrent Reaper invasion of Earth. The Illusive Man tells Shepard his plan to control the Reapers and attempts to foil Shepard when Shepard resists. Over the course of the game, the Illusive Man commands Cerberus to attack the planet Sur'Kesh, homeworld of the salarians, to instigate a war between two allied races and to take control of the allied interspecies forces' base, the Citadel. He makes another appearance on the asari home planet, Thessia, where he again tries to convince Shepard that controlling the Reapers is the best solution. Shepard refuses and suggests that the Illusive Man is indoctrinated. In response, the Illusive Man commands the assassin Kai Leng to steal vital information necessary to combat the Reapers. Shepard tracks the VI to Cerberus's headquarters and discovers videos of the Illusive Man having himself implanted with Reaper technology and warning Kai Leng of Shepard. In these videos, the Illusive Man shows the Commander a great deal of respect. The Illusive Man makes his penultimate appearance at the headquarters. The Illusive Man appears at the Citadel in the endgame. Depending on prior in-game choices, players then decide whether to shoot him, or to convince him that he is indoctrinated, which makes him shoot himself. If the player shoots him he remarks how beautiful Earth is while gazing out through the Citadel arms, wishing Shepard could see it the same way, before succumbing to his wounds.

In other media[edit]

Outside of the video games, the Illusive Man had earlier appeared in the 2008 Mass Effect: Ascension. He authorizes an attack on the quarians' Migrant Fleet,[jargon] in order to pursue Gillian Grayson.[jargon] Initially believing the attack to have failed and the strike team to have died, he is surprised when Paul Grayson, part of the strike team, reports to him. Paul tells him he is leaving Cerberus, and forces the Illusive Man to reluctantly leave Kahlee Sanders[jargon] alone, under threat of exposure.

The Illusive Man appears in the 2010 comic series Mass Effect: Redemption. He tasks Liara T'Soni and the drell Feron[jargon] to investigate the Collectors' interest in Shepard's corpse. They successfully recover the body and return it to the Illusive Man, though Feron captured by the Shadow Broker in the process.

The character makes an appearance in the 2010 novel Mass Effect: Retribution, where the Illusive Man becomes obsessed with indoctrination and decides to study it, unbeknownst to Shepard, using Cerberus deserter Paul Grayson as a test subject. Not long after Grayson is implanted with Reaper technology, the turian Blackwatch[jargon] launches a series of strategic attacks against numerous Cerberus assets, inadvertently giving Grayson a chance to escape. The Illusive Man sends his best assassin, Kai Leng, to kill Grayson, while he focuses on rebuilding his organization.

The Mass Effect: Evolution comics series was announced to expand on the Illusive Man's backstory,[11] and was released throughout 2011. The story opens during the First Contact War, the war between the alien turians and the humans after humanity discovered alien life and the Mass Relays.[jargon] The Illusive Man is Jack Harper, a mercenary working for the Human System Alliance under the command of General Williams. In one incident, Jack leads two other mercenaries, Ben Hislop and Eva Coré, in attacking a group of turians, and captures one as prisoner. The turian, named Desolas Arterius, lead them to an artifact that turns Ben into a zombie-like monster and leaves Jack with strange eyes and the mysterious ability to understanding alien languages. After being captured and subsequently released by the Turians, Jack begins to search for clues about his mysterious visions of destruction. He and Eva were later captured by Desolas and his brother Saren who revealed to have custody of Ben. The Jack and Eva are brought to a temple on the turian homeworld of Palaven where Desolas has excavated an artifact. Desolas reveals that he plans to use the artifact to create a new breed of turian soldiers. Jack realizes that the new turians would be feral and dangerous, but Desolas ignores his warning. Jack manages to convince Saren that converted turians are a threat just as they begin to turn on Desolas. In the end, Jack escapes as the turian military destroy the beacon and the converted turians. However, he loses both Ben and Eva and creates a manifesto for Cerberus in their name.

In Mass Effect: Deception, a 2012 novel, the Illusive Man is targeted by an extremist group, The Biotic Underground, which includes Grayson's vengeful daughter, Gillian. Kai Leng kills Gillian, but not before she is able to warn David Anderson and Kahlee Sanders[clarification needed] of Cerberus' cybernetically advanced troops. The novel was criticized for numerous continuity errors,[citation needed] which the planned sequels will correct.[21]

The Illusive Man is the main antagonist of Mass Effect: Invasion, a 2012 comic series. In the comic, he organises an invasion of the station Omega. He succeeds and gains full access to the Omega 4 Relay.[jargon]

The character appears in the fourth issue of the 2012 Mass Effect: Homeworlds, where he monitors Liara for her Prothean research on Reaper-defeating technologies. He sends a Phantom to kill her, which she defeats. He attempts to contact her afterwards. claiming the phantom to be a rogue agent, and proposes an alliance between the two. Liara is not convinced and cuts him off.


The Illusive Man was received well, and gained accolades for his appearance in Mass Effect 2. IGN called him the best PC character of 2010: "[a]n enigma, a crusader, an agent of calm in a vortex of chaos".[22] In a vote for by Game Informer for their top 30 favorite characters of the 2000s decade, the Illusive Man placed 27th.[23] Giant Bomb's 2010 Game of the Year listed the Illusive Man as the character with which they would most like to party.[24] Game Informer's Joe Juba listed the Illusive Man's appearance in Mass Effect: Retribution as a reason to read the book.[25] Dan Ryckert, also writing for Game Informer, felt that Bruce Greenwood would best suit the character in the forthcoming Mass Effect film.[26] When comparing Mass Effect to previous works that may have inspired the series, IGN's Christopher Monfette compared the character to the Smoking Man from The X-Files.[27] GamesRadar praised his moral sense, putting Illusive Man in their 2013 list of the best villains in video game history at number 14.[28]

Martin Sheen was praised for his voice acting. Sheen was nominated for best performance by a human male at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards,[29][30] and David Houghton, writing for GamesRadar, listed it as an example of "[w]hen celebrity voice-acting goes very right".[31] When reviewing Mass Effect 2, IGN's Erik Brudvig called Sheen's performance a "high point" in the game's cast.[32] Similarly, Gameplanet's Aylon Herbet called him an "show-stealing personality".[33]

Tom Francis of PC Gamer criticized how the player was forced to work with the Illusive Man and Cerberus in Mass Effect 2, saying that it was an interesting idea if an option, but "just frustating" if the player was forced to do it.[34] Nic Vargus, writing for GamesRadar, felt similarly and called it "one of the biggest narrative stretches in Mass Effect."[35]


  1. ^ BioWare. Mass Effect 2. Codex - Cerberus: The Illusive Man: The reclusive tycoon calling himself the Illusive Man is a human nationalist focused on advancing human interests, whatever the cost to non-humans. The Citadel Council regards him as a fanatic posing a serious threat to galactic security. 
  2. ^ Ryckert, Dan (January 31, 2012). "BioWare Announces Voice Cast For Mass Effect 3". Game Informer. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  3. ^ Crecente, Brian (January 14, 2010). "Martin Sheen Dares You To Talk Back To Him (In Mass Effect 2)". Kotaku. Retrieved March 16, 2010. 
  4. ^ Nunneley, Stephany (January 14, 2010). "Martin Sheen really got into playing "The Man" in ME2, says BioWare". VG247. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  5. ^ Sheen, Martin (September 10, 2011). Martin Sheen Confirms His Return As The Illusive Man For "Mass Effect 3". Interview with Lucht, Joshua. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  6. ^ Phillips, Tom (December 12, 2012). "BioWare: Mass Effect 4 due "late 2014 to mid-2015"". Eurogamer. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Hudson, Casey; Watts, Derek (February 2, 2012). The Art of the Mass Effect Universe. Dark Horse Comics. ISBN 978-1-59582-768-5. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Mass Effect 2 - Adrien Cho Video Interview". IGN. December 18, 2009. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ Walters, Mac and Miller, John Jackson (w), Francia, Omar and Silva, Manuel (a), Atiyeh, Michael (col), Heisler, Michael (let). Mass Effect: Evolution (September 21, 2011), Dark Horse Comics, retrieved on March 17, 2013
  10. ^ ME2 Digital Artbook
  11. ^ a b c d George, Richard (July 15, 2010). "SDCC 10: Mass Effect: The Origin of the Illusive Man". IGN. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  12. ^ Yoon, Andrew (December 11, 2009). "Tricia Helfer, Martin Sheen talk up their voice roles in Mass Effect 2". Joystiq. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Characters: Illusive Man". Mass Effect 2 Official Website. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  14. ^ Narcisse, Evan (January 27, 2012). "How BioWare Writes A Mass Effect Game". Kotaku. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b BioWare. Mass Effect 2. Scene: Ending. Level/area: Prologue: Awakening. Illusive Man: Humanity is up against the greatest threat of our brief existence. / Shepard: The Reapers / Illusive Man: Good to see your memory's still intact. [...] We're at war. No one wants to admit it, but humanity is under attack. While you've been sleeping, entire colonies have been disappearing. Human colonies. We believe it's someone working for the Reapers. [...] I have a shuttle ready to take you to Freedom's Progress, the latest colony to be abducted. [...] Find any clues you can. Who's abducting the colonies? Do they have any connection to the Reapers? 
  16. ^ BioWare. Mass Effect 2. Scene: Ending. Level/area: Freedom's Progress. Illusive Man: But more importantly, you confirmed the Collectors are behind the abductions [...] / Shepard: If this is war, I'll need an army. Or a really good team. / Illusive Man: I've already compiled a list of soldiers, scientists, and mercenaries. You'll get dossiers on the best of them. 
  17. ^ BioWare. Mass Effect 2. Scene: Intro. Level/area: Horizon. Illusive Man: Shepard. I think we have them! Horizon -- one of our colonies in the Terminus Systems -- just went silent. 
  18. ^ BioWare. Mass Effect 2. Scene: Intro. Level/area: Collector Ship. Illusive Man: Shepard -- we caught a break. I intercepted a distress call from a turian patrol. They stumbled on to a Collector ship beyond the Korlus system. The turians were wiped out, but not before they crippled the Collector vessel. I need you to board that ship and get some hard data on the Collectors. Find us a way to get to their homeworld. 
  19. ^ BioWare. Mass Effect 2. Scene: Ending. Level/area: Collector Ship. Illusive Man: Shepard. Looks like EDI extracted some interesting data before the Collector ship came back online. / Shepard: Cut the act. You set us up. And you better have a damn good reason for it. / Illusive Man: We needed information on the Omega-4 relay. That required direct access to Collector data. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. 
  20. ^ BioWare. Mass Effect 2. Scene: Illusive Man conversation. Level/area: Suicide Mission. Illusive Man: I'm looking at the schematics EDI uploaded. A timed radiation pulse would kill the remaining Collectors, but leave the machinery and technology intact. This is our chance, Shepard. They were building a Reaper. That knowledge... that framework -- could save us. / Shepard: They liquefied people. Turned them into something horrible. We have to destroy the base. / Illusive Man: Don't be short-sighted. Our best chance against the Reapers is to turn their own resources against them. 
  21. ^ Purchese, Robert (February 6, 2012). "BioWare responds to Mass Effect: Deception outcry". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on April 27, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Best Character (PC)". IGN. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  23. ^ Vore, Bryan (December 3, 2010). "Readers' Top 30 Characters Results Revealed". Game Informer. Retrieved March 16, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Giant Bomb's Game of the Year 2010: Day Four". Giant Bomb. December 30, 2010. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  25. ^ Juba, Joe (July 27, 2010). "Five Reasons To Read Mass Effect Retribution". Game Informer. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  26. ^ Ryckert, Dan (May 25, 2010). "Casting Call: Mass Effect". Game Informer. Archived from the original on April 28, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  27. ^ Monfette, Christopher (January 26, 2010). "Films That Inspired Mass Effect". IGN. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  28. ^ "100 best villains in video games". GamesRadar. May 17, 2013. Retrieved July 10, 2013. 
  29. ^ Leahy, Brian (November 17, 2010). "Spike Video Game Awards Nominee List Released". Shacknews. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  30. ^ "Spike TV Announces the "2010 "Video Game Awards"". IGN. November 17, 2010. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  31. ^ Houghton, David (March 26, 2010). "When celebrity voice-acting goes very right". GamesRadar. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  32. ^ Brudvig, Erik (February 8, 2010). "Mass Effect 2 Review". IGN. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  33. ^ Herbet, Aylon (January 27, 2010). "Mass Effect 2 review". Gameplanet. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  34. ^ Francis, Tom (February 16, 2011). "15 things we want to see in Mass Effect 3". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on April 27, 2013. Retrieved March 19, 2013. 
  35. ^ Vargus, Nic (March 2, 2012). "Mass Effect 3 – 21 must-know facts about the Mass Effect universe". GamesRadar. Archived from the original on April 27, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2013. 

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