Last year, not only did I start Mass Effect for the first time, but I also dipped into a Saints Row replay marathon, intending to go right from the first game through to the last. Yet, in the thick of both runs, to my dismay, remasters were announced. My timing was impeccable. I opted to place them down. Now, with one released while the other rears its head, all I can think about is how similar the openings to each game’s respective second entries are.
Saints Row has always been a game dear to my heart after I played the first one alongside Crackdown on my old Xbox 360 as a kid. I remember the disheartening red circle of death cropping up and ruining my post-school rush to dive into the fun romp of wearing silly purple costumes while mowing down rival gangs with my dual-wielded submachine guns.
It defined my love for open-world shoot-and-drive titles in a way that Grand Theft Auto never quite came close to, even with all the nostalgia that comes bundled with Vice City. Replaying them shun a light on how well they hold up, and, to this day, Saints Row 2 is one of the all-time greatest, but it’s often critiqued for being oh-too-similar to its distant cousin, GTA. But, not many talks about its similarities to Mass Effect. Spoilers ahead.
In Mass Effect 2, the opening sees the Normandy – your ship – ripped apart in a bombardment of hellfire, the hull breaching, and a spacewalk that feels right out of Dead Space. Joker struggles to get out while you clamber up to him to play the good captain. In the doom and gloom of the Normandy’s final hour, the explosive catalyst hurls you into space, your oxygen breached. Shepard flails and struggles and is certainly dead – nobody could possibly survive such an event. Well, they wouldn’t have if not for Cerberus somehow resurrecting them, harnessing their plot armour to keep them afloat so that BioWare can continue the story.
As for Saints Row 2, it picks up where the first game ended. You’re on a boat, and Julius – also played by Mass Effect’s own Keith David – blows you up. Surviving an explosion of that calibre seems unbelievably unlikely, especially in a world where they don’t have that critical sci-fi technology that, even then, requires you to suspend your disbelief something fierce. Both are explosions on a ship, both take the last game’s customized character and scorch them in a raging boom that would no doubt, in the real world, leave them in pieces, and both have them waking up in a hospital miraculously surviving, coming out of a long-winded coma.
In Saints Row 2, this coma is half a decade, and the world has changed a great deal since you left it, while in Mass Effect, it’s just two. Still, they share that commonality of lengthy naps and plot armour keeping our lovable playable characters alive. It doesn’t end there, though.
Saints Row 2 has you waking up where you rightfully belong – prison. Mass Effect 2 sees you under the care of an Alliance enemy, the aforementioned Cerberus. The settings are different so naturally, this is where you’d expect the similarities to come to a conclusion. They don’t. On the contrary, both have you without your tools, completely exposed with a lack of any decent armour or the arsenal you sported only a game prior, fighting your way to escape. The prison is self-explanatory: you want out. Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, sees angry droids infiltrating the facility. Both have you running for that exit, and both are isolated with Saints Row’s being an island while Mass Effect’s is a space station in the middle of nowhere.
In the midst of this escape, you meet a young, plucky, naive character who is in awe of the player’s status and reputation, willing to help them plot their escape and fight their way out. In Mass Effect 2, this is Jacob, while in Saint’s Row 2, this is Carlos. Following your escape, you meet up with old friends and fan-favourites, Garrus and Johnny Gat chief among them, to recruit and rekindle that lost flame that nearly burnt out while the world assumed you dead. The openings feel like parallel versions of one another, and it’s intriguing to play back-to-back.
Funnily enough, though, what with Saint’s Row pulling so much from Grand Theft Auto and other games of that ilk, you’d expect it to be the one taking from Mass Effect, but it’s likely just an innocuous coincidence. Mass Effect 2 released two years after Volition’s hit open-world title in 2010. It’s certainly possible that BioWare did draw inspiration, but that’s no fun. The universe, by chance, giving us two sequels that share the same numbered entry, with a voice actor crossing the barrier, having practically the same opening, all by coincidence is far more fun to think than BioWare taking from Volition.
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