Imagine a game that begins strongly, propelled by ambition and purpose, and in the final act totally deteriorates. That's not interesting to me anymore, even as a process story. It happens with such frequency now, it's way too familiar. The entire project, probably, was inspired by a single concept, but as a game it needed levels and plot, and as the designers strayed from that initial flash of brilliance to build the basic structure necessary to support it, they lost interest and it turned out workmanlike. Or maybe they worked on it for too long, got tired, stopped trying. These games run out of steam, time or money and bashfully crawl over the finish line or don't finish at all.
Games try and open with their best foot forward and shove the mechanically weaker stuff at the end. Bioshock's failing is a fundamental disagreement between story and game, but it still ends on its worst two levels: an escort mission and an overly conventional boss fight. Crysis dramatically narrowed its last-act focus to forbid the freeform strategy the game previously encouraged. Far Cry and the original Half-Life are classic examples: aliens showed up and abducted the quality.
I wonder if the opposite is possible: bad start, outstanding finish. Not like a slow burn, but like the developers went through the same declining creative trajectory all the above games did, but happened to build the game back-to-front. As if the designer envisioned a wonderful ending set piece, executed it flawlessly, but couldn't conceive of an interesting game leading up to it. Letdowns, broken promises and missed opportunities but in reverse. From trainwreck to transcendence. I want to know what that game would be like.
First impressions would be very different. They might improve because we wouldn't have the game's best moments for comparison. It would certainly exit on a perfect note: an alternate-universe Bioshock would conclude on a sequence of astonishing and sustained theatricality and Crysis would expand its possibilities instead of restricting them. The bad levels would not disappoint since the game wouldn't have built up our expectations. Nobody cares about an awful conclusion to an awful game, it's when the weaknesses are preceded by greatness that they really sting. Invisible War was only reviled because it was Deus Ex: Invisible War.
More likely, first impressions would be fatal. If the beginning is abjectly horrible, that will characterise reviews and player opinions. No one credible has anyone ever advocated suffering through ten hours of video game misery on the basis that later the sun starts shining a little bit. The game would hook nobody and its wonderful ending would go largely unseen. This is almost surely why all the worst parts of a game find themselves at the end. The levels are too expensive not to use, but the game's too expensive to risk opening with them. When Obsidian had to cut content from the second Knights of the Old Republic, they took it from the ending. They couldn't get away with a similarly unfinished beginning. They'd be called on it instantly, and fortunately for them reviewers are less likely to mention a disappointing ending because they think it's spoiling.
Assuming players could stomach the whole thing, would it be like the game only got better? Or would it be like watching the game fall apart backwards. Imagine you got through the uninspired and undetermined opening, then saw the game hitting its stride, and you know at that point in their development they've got lightning in a bottle. But you've seen how it turns out for them, you've seen the inadequate levels they make next. You know they end up losing it. Like flipping through a photo album from the back; every part of the game is a snapshot of the development team, and the beginning, the last thing they did, is beaten down and marked by failure. Somewhere near the sequential end of the game, though, they're on fire and they know it. Basically, imagine experiencing Bioshock or Crysis or the discography of the Rolling Stones or Elvis Costello in reverse.
That's what it is to play Bioshock or Crysis for the second time, when you know how they end. You're not watching them escalate anymore; this time you're not along for the ride. You're an observer, not a passenger, and you know all the goals and grandeur don't end well. For all your agency, it's something you can't prevent. They're going full throttle but you know they're about to crash. It's going to break your heart and theirs.
And take that replay experience and translate it to the first play. I don't think that's ever happened. Bring that on.