"How come every time there's a problem you end up running to me?"
If I had to sum the intergalactic adventures of intrepid explorer/warrior/adventurer/carnage-enthusiast Commander [Insert Name] Shepard up in one word, it would probably be Killboner. Between going on a non-stop mad intergalactic rampage of head-butting destruction that makes the galaxy's deadliest criminals, bounty hunters, and mercenaries look like ten pounds of crap stuffed in a five-pound bag, and the fact that he's so insanely potent he can have sex without taking off his clothes, I feel that no other word appropriately describes it. The hero of the amazing Mass Effect series, Shepard is a double-stuffed, leather-bound, thermonuclear badass so hardcore he can knock Turians unconscious by punching them in their chest armor and so insanely destructive that his pet goldfish have a tendency to spontaneously die of heart attacks simply because they can't handle the stress of living in the same room as the galaxy's ultimate killing machine. Everyone this guy meets either dies painfully in a fire or gets naked and dances for him, and he's so cripplingly confident and beloved/feared throughout the galaxy that even though even though he can't walk into a bar without pistol-whipping someone and his dance moves should probably constitute a war crime, he always seems to get straight into the VIP rooms in clubs whenever he wants (presumably because the Krogan bouncers don't want to screw with someone with more balls than them).
Now, before I get too much further, I should mention that there are three major reasons why I feel compelled to finally write about Commander Shepard this week. The first is that Mass Effect is easily one of my favorite games of all time. The second is that I was up until 6am pretty much every night this week pumping 30+ hours into the most recent (and final?) installment of the trilogy, a practice that, combined with my mad dash to complete the Book Three manuscript by March 31st, has left me very little time to do anything other than ponder the more mysterious aspects of Asari anatomy and have agonizing nightmares about whether it's more efficient to carry an assault rifle or just spam out Adrenaline Rushes non-stop all the time. Finally, I'm compelled to action because about a year ago that THIS happened, and as soon as I saw it I resolved to finish the series before I made it a self-fulfilling prophesy:
Scroll ahead to 0:20 to witness what is either a cruel coincidence or the single greatest moment of my writing career.
Without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, Commander Shepard's story begins when a synthetic race of robot aliens called the Geth roll into town on a mission to Titan A.E. Earth's colonies into oblivion like a bunch of sleek, one-eyed Terminator Daleks, so naturally it's up to our intrepid hero to deal with the situation by pulling out their glowing eyes with his teeth and then shooting them so hard in the RAM that by the time the second game rolls around they're just some sad, pathetic shell of their former glory (which Shepard then in turn blows up for a second time, and possibly a third). Along the way, Shep discovers that while it might be possible to genocide the Geth out with little more than a powerful manly sneeze, a biotic singularity field, and a few thousand rounds of incendiary shotgun blasts to the sensor arrays, the Geth are just pawns for an EVEN BIGGER group of colossal planet-killing robots known as the Reapers, who are like giant robot space-squid that fire laser beams capable of splitting battleship hulls in half. Naturally, Shepard decides to genocide them out too. The Reapers respond to his declaration of war by atomizing him into outer space with a death ray the size of a small star system, but this really only succeeds in making him angry.
Just a few hours of gameplay later, Shepard is traveling across the galaxy shredding Reapers into scrap metal with his fists, forging the scrap metal into bullets with which to kill other Reapers, and then going off to melt the ice-cold heart of a biotically-enhanced, spree-killing super-babe with a shaved head and enough tattoos to make a Yakuza underboss look like a high school chick with a two-inch butterfly tattoo on her ankle. By my count, this guy single-handedly kills at least five full-sized Reapers – which, by the way, are the sort of horrific metallic alien monstrosities that make hand-to-hand combat with a Decepticon look like a pillow-fight with Kelly Chambers – all while somehow managing to not be crushed or vaporized by a monster that sports claws the size of container ships. I suppose it helps that Shepard seems to be the only human on earth capable of wielding the gigantic mega-rocket launcher that can kill a Reaper in one shot, though for some reason he doesn't seem to bring that thing around with him NEARLY enough (maybe it would make life too easy for him and he prefers a real challenge?). Oh, and while we're on the subject of specialized equipment, Shep is also the only dude with a blade on his Omni-Tool, which for all intents and purposes means that this guy is so insanely over-the-top hardcore that he can kill even the creepiest robot-zombie alien cyber-douchebags by stabbing them in the face with a three-dimensional hologram.
"THIS is what a gun in your face feels like. It happens to me every day."
It needs to be mentioned that Shepard can be male or female, good or evil, black or white (although I have it on good authority from a Chinese-American friend that it's really hard to make him Asian without having it look like he's got some kind of creepy congenital birth defect), thus proving that badassitude isn't tied to gender, race, or creed. And while a ton of people love the Female Shepard forever until death do them part, I have to admit I don't know much about FemShep, except that she's definitely not a blonde, she's voiced by the same woman who did Bastila, and she gets to have erotic lesbian shower scenes with her subordinates (which of course is badass, but only if you enjoy sexy naked women with athletic builds rubbing each other down with loofas (and who doesn't)). Other than that I think she's pretty much the same as ManShep. All things considered, I personally chose to go with the dude version, mostly because any time my wife comes home and I can triumphantly inform her that I hooked up with a blue-skinned alien chick while she was at work it's a good day in my book (unemployment FTW).
Male or Female, Commander Shepard nevertheless proudly comes from the James T. Kirk School of Space Captaining – a time-honored, old-school badass code of honor that requires daring starship commanders to mercilessly obliterate enemy warships, face-punch intergalactic douchebags in whatever passes for a skull on their insectoid anatomy, massacre entire civilizations of evil genoicidal monsters, and then go home to make out with all the hot alien babes he recently widowed. And for Shepard, it doesn't even matter if he's male or female, or if his love interest is a blue-skinned alien, a hardcore space marine, or some random synthetic sophisticated sex robot from the future – the Commander can't friggin' walk from the kitchen to the forward gun battery without some hot babe in a skin-tight lycra bodysuit hurling herself breasts-first at him and launching into a dialogue about how she can no longer hold back her feelings for him. Hell, there's one chick from a race of aliens that develop life-threatening illnesses every time they're exposed to hayfever, yet that chick still practically tore off her bubble-boy enviro-suit just to get all up on Shep's bacteria. Throughout the entire series, it's like as soon as some chickadee in a slinky costume walks into the frame you know that unless you're ragingly inept at controlling the guy he's going to be seducing her under the mood-lighting and terrible music of his Captain's Quarters just before sending her to her death on a suicide mission she has little hope of surviving. When it comes to people who don't want to sleep with him, Shepard Inspires such loyalty in his troops that you get guys like Garrus who are so dedicated they're willing to block rockets with their faces and spend long nights performing seemingly-endless ultra-complicated calibrations for weapons that pretty much never actually even get fired. "Hey boss, did you say you want me to run into that radiation-filled death chamber armed only with a pistol and hold off five Cerberus Mechs at the same time so that you and your girlfriend can reprogram the clock on the Normandy's microwave? I'm on it!"
This is the first thing that pops up when you run a Google Image Search for "space babes", but, honestly, this weird alien space eyeball tentacle-monster also happens to be a good visual representation of Commander Shepherd's military career – drifting around in outer space groping a hot babe with his appendages while random dudes shoot him in the face with rockets at close range without doing any noticeable damage.
I'd also like to point out that Commander Shepard is named after real-life American astronaut/hero/badass Alan Shepard, a man whose claim to fame is that he was the first American (and second person) to ever enter outer space. Commander Alan Shepard was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served on a destroyer in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and then eventually became a naval aviator and test pilot, where his job primarily involved hopping into flying deathtraps with wings and testing to see if he could fly them really really fast without the systems malfunctioning and killing him. In 1961 Shepard was carried into space strapped to a gigantic missile loaded with jet fuel, hurtling through the atmosphere at a time when rocket trajectories were still calculated by hand using slide rules, and surviving in Zero-G environments in an age where most scientists were "pretty sure" you could go into space without your entire body exploding like a meat grenade. Shepard was Chief of the Astronaut Office during the Gemini missions, mostly because he had a crippling inner-ear disease that gave him extreme vertigo, affected his hearing, and caused him to be almost-constantly nauseous, but this still didn't stop him from taking part in Apollo 14, becoming the fifth person to walk on the moon, and being the first (and, as far as I know, only) human being to ever hit a golf ball on the surface of the Moon – he'd hidden the club from NASA by concealing it in his space suit, then assembled it in Zero-G and used it to set what has to be the current Galactic Record for Longest Golf Ball Drive. So, any time you're naming your fictional space captain after a dude like this, you know he's got to be pretty hardcore. (Of course, rather than hurtling through space on a rickety 1960s chunk of hollowed-out steel constructed by the lowest bidder, our Shepard and his band of carefree sex-crazed alien life-forms explore the galaxy in the SSV Normandy, a hyperdrive-capable singles bar with a stealth drive and an over-the-top frontal cannon that rivals that of most decked-out Alliance cruisers.)
Depending on how you play him, Shepard is either the nicest dude to ever live, the cruelest hardass in history, or some combination of the two. For the most part, one thing is certain – if he can't shoot it, punch it, or otherwise smash it into submission with this skull, he'll use diplomacy, which, in most cases, consists almost entirely of convincing bad guys to shoot themselves in the head and save himself the bullet (although he did once end a 300 year-old intergalactic war just by yelling at a couple of political leaders). And while he does have plenty of good lines, the best and most badass stuff usually happens when he doesn't say anything and instead unleashes a badass Renegade Interrupt. And, look, I don't care if you're the ultimate Paragon of orphan-hugging fluffy goodness in the universe and you arbitrate peace accords and help Seth Green bang robo-Tricia Helfer while flying around to all your Favorite Stores on the Citadel on a rainbow-flavored Pegasus-Unicorn – if you don't use the Renegade interrupts your life will never be complete. I swear to God one time I actually saw Shepard punch a katana in half during a Renegade interrupt. Katanas, as we all know, are easily the most powerful weapon in any fantasy/sci-fi setting, usually providing a damage output that far outpaces missile launchers (I seriously once saw a G.I. Joe comic where Snake Eyes cut a space shuttle in half with a katana), but apparently when Commander Shepard gest pissed-off enough he can pimp-slap one in half with a hellacious backhand swing. He's just that awesome.
Here are some clips of Shepard being an asshole in ME1. I didn't see most of these the first time playing through, but some of them are pretty tight.
Good or evil, one thing remains constant – even if Commander Shepard were the last human in the galaxy in a desperate struggle for the survival of the species, he'd personally pull out the throats of every ultra-aggressive alien life form in existence and then repopulate the species himself with his unstoppable boners.
"If I flee, I might trip over the dozen Krogan I killed to get here."