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Steam’s latest hit is a generic F2P co-op third-person shooter – but not the one that launched last week

The Steam audience has made one free-to-play co-op third-person shooter popular, a week after rejecting the other free-to-play co-op third-person shooter.

Image credit: Nexon

With the number of games being published every day on Steam, it's easy to feel a sense of deja vu every time you check the new releases page. Everyone has run into their fair share of hentai abominations, cheap mobile ports, achievement-farming games, and the unending barrage of asset flips – all seemingly releasing in bulk.

But it's rare to see that happen in the world of big-budget games, especially when you're not talking about a game aping a popular thing, or copying certain looks/mechanics months or years later. No, this is a case of White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen.

And yet, that's exactly what's happening right now on Steam. On September 8, Tencent's (Level Infinite) NExT Studios released Synced, previously known as Synced: Off Planet. This is a free-to-play, sci-fi, third-person, co-op shooter that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where rogue machines destroyed human civilization.

The game has seen a very modest player turnout, peaking at just 10,272 concurrent players, according to SteamDB. It's currently sitting a Mixed review rating on Steam, based on just under 2,500 player reviews.

So far, it's looking like another free-to-play game from Asia that can't quite break it into the West. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But then you see this: The First Descendant, whose open cross-play beta is currently enjoying a healthy spot on Steam's most played games list. At the time of this writing, The First Descendant has over 77,591 concurrent players, and that figure continues to rise. It's easy to imagine it landing into the top 10 by the end of the day.

So what is it? Well, The First Descendant is a free-to-play, sci-fi, third-person, co-op shooter that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. But instead of one where rogue machines destroyed human civilization, you fight off monsters to ensure the survival of humanity's remains following an alien attack.

The First Descendant is developed by Nexon (Korea's Tencent, basically). The beta is live until September 25, but the full game doesn't have a release date. Even in these busy weeks for major video game releases, the game already has a sizeable audience. Obviously, it remains to be seen whether it can bring all those players back at launch.

Quickly, guess which game this is without reading the image credit. | Image credit: Level Infinite

It's hard to tell the two games apart, and much like their movie counterparts, only one of the two seems to be doing well. In fairness, though, differences between the two obviously exist. Synced has PvP combat, while The First Descendant is strictly PvE (and four-player vs Synced's three). The First Descendant also runs on Unreal Engine 5, and prides itself on those encounters with colossal monsters, but the moment-to-moment gameplay in the two games is hard to tell apart.

I played both Synced as well as The First Descendant for preview, barely two months apart! They both genuinely felt interchangeable. Neither were especially exciting to play, with the only major mechanic in the latter being a (janky) grappling hook.

Characters have abilities mapped to a hotbar. You shoot weapons that lack oomph, and numbers come out of enemies when you shoot them. If you're not already familiar with both, you wouldn't be able to guess which is which – especially given their ultra-generic titles.

And I can prove it! I'll embed a few screenshots of the two games below. See if you can tell which is which – without consulting their respective Steam pages first.

The more choice is generally better in games; if you need your ‘rogue machines destroying humanity’ fix, rather than your ‘fight off aliens to prevent extinction’ fix, you’re eating well right now.

It is, however, fascinating to see that two similar games can land so wildly with punters – especially since we’re in such a busy, well-scoring period right now. Whether either of these games lives to see a couple more years remains to be seen - service games have been dropping like flies recently.

In the short term, it’s safe to say that The First Descendant is cleaning up, and it certainly helps that it's the more interesting, better-looking game. One to keep your eye on, if nothing else.

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