I really enjoy playing Mass Effect, now I play Mass Effect 2. It feels extremely badass to play as a tough customizable space commander saving the galaxy. I also find the story and the dialogue there entertaining, and I found myself attached to characters there. I also think that the gameplay improved from ME to ME2.
However… while ME managed to keep the armor designs relatively genderneutral and generally exposed similar costume silliness to both genders, ME2 falls short in certain lead female squad characters’ designs. Here are my worst eyesores, Samara (who I encountered today) and Miranda (whose design and perma-smile annoyed me to the point that I prefer not to take her to the party when I can replace her skills by other party members).
First, Samara (top), an asari justicar. Or, to non-ME-players, a kind of paladin-ish character (or warrior-priestess-ish as described ingame) following strict honor code telling her to kill anyone violating this code, and she comes from a blue all-female alien race named asari. I skip the problems related to asari portrayal (already covered in many places all over the Internet, for example here) and I move directly to the costume vs. character part. I just received her loyalty mission, so I know only basic strokes of her character, sooo…
Basically, she is a LAWFUL good character, emphasis on LAWFUL. And she is past the middle age of asari, and due to her profession, she is extremely respected within her people. I do like that her appearance does give an aura of an older but not frail woman, with all her skin spots and peculiar face shape and great voice and so. Still… I can’t come up with any reason why she would wear an armor that leaves her chest open (THEY USE GUNS, C’MON!!). Sure, asari are sexually liberated (duh, which fictional all-female race isn’t?), but also intelligent. I don’t think that Samara is THAT good that she can instantly summon over her chest a biotic bullet-proof barrier.
The questionmarks are because of following: Samara’s cleavage shows through an extended collar, but she also has a large choker… so, a boob window impression. And male Justicar armors don’t exist because, well, asari are an all-female race. I still doubt that it would look as empowering, though.
Miranda Lawson (bottom), on the other hand… she is a leading officer of a powerful organization named Cerberus. And wears this exactly same attire on missions. And only adds a breathing mask when going to low-oxygen areas (helmets, anyone?). What also makes me feel uncomfortable is that her uniform distantly reminds me a skimpy tuxedo… and via that, Playboy bunnies… ugh.
(MINOR SPOILERS FROM THE EARLY GAME IN THIS PARAGRAPH.) What might partially justify Miranda’s appearance (alongside her probably being specifically being one of potential female love interests) is that she is a genetically engineered human, created by her self-centered “father” who offered his own genetic material as a base of Miranda’s creation. Her purpose was to be perfect in terms of health, skills etc. and, naturally, in appearance. And, mind you, a male creator… well, the results show. So teeeeechnically someone could handwave that Miranda’s attire taste is also engineered fanservice-y, but I find that far-fetched. I also doubt that engineering her ankles are engineered strong enough to avoid high heel injuries…
However, there is DLC which contains more reasonable armor for Miranda. No heels or boob window, hooray! ..still, it’s DLC, not original contents D:
With another female squad member, Jack (the local biotic/“sorcerer”), or Jack the “I NEED no shirt”, I’m… more okay-ish. Kinda. Running around shirtless kinda suits her character, a woman whose life as a test subject alienated her from normal life standards, but… wouldn’t she either run topless than wear those very uncomfortable-looking belts that apparently don’t stick on without glue? Or, hey, a sports bra? (Also, during her literally frozen time in Purgatory, where did she find an occasion to put heavy make-up and shave her head?)
At least Tali continues being adorable. <3 Perhaps there are some, ahem, tactically placed belts and so on, but overall female quarians don’t appear to have too different clothing standards compared to males. …well, they all need their enviro-suits. But I actually find that cloth draped over her pretty. <3 (Alternative skin shown above.)
If you look through the Art of Mass Effect book, you can almost hear the the arguments between the creative teams and the marketing guys as to what changes need to be made to what characters. Naturally the female characters suffered the most, and it was most dramatic in Mass Effect 2.
Miranda they explored a whole bunch of options to try to mix in corporate, arrogant and “perfect woman” together and the costume they settled on is quite conservative. However, there are a few dialogue options where it seems that she was supposed to be wearing one of her more brazenly sexy outfits, so I can only imagine what a battle it was to limit the objectification to her heels and amazingly tailored pants that are tighter than sprayed on.
Jack’s concept art has explorations of her being topless but seem to have put the belts on as a last minute addition so that retailers wouldn’t refuse the game on the basis of female nipples (think of the children!).
And while it didn’t take place until Mass Effect 3, I think it’s worth mentioning how Ashley Williams got her look completely re-invented to be… basically the opposite of her personality.
Overall it seems that the moment Mass Effect took off and started to show it’s potential, it was targeted by people with authority who wanted it to make a lot of money but didn’t understand the appeal. I could go over a lot of the minor changes, which are often joked about in the DLCs, but this post is already long enough. I should go.