Time Sinks – The NHL Series
Choosing one game to highlight as my time sink wasn't easy. I've logged hundreds of hours into exploring Tamriel in The Elder Scrolls games, exploring the myriad vaults of the Fallout games, trekking the high plains of Red Dead Redemption, and racking up kills (and deaths) in Battlefield multiplayer. All would have been solid picks, but I've spent more time with EA's NHL series this generation than any other franchise.
Oftentimes, when I finish a lengthy single-player experience I don't feel like diving right into another involving game. I take a few days to dwell on the experience I just finished, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses whether or not I'm reviewing the game for GI. During these gaps, I instead pick up a sports game or a multiplayer shooter to cleanse the palette. Though I've awarded other sports games higher scores over the past few years, my love of hockey and the great dual analog control scheme always keeps me coming back to my favorite cool-down game, NHL.
One advantage sports games have over other many other genres is infinite replayability. Every time you step on the ice you can get a different outcome, whether you are squaring off against other humans in online competitions or chasing the elusive Stanley Cup in one of the many single-player modes. Some years I write the history of one up and coming player in Be A Pro mode, slowly building his skills as I earn a spot on the top line. Other times I sculpt a team comprised of my favorite NHLers to compete online in Ultimate Team. The majority of my time, however, is spent in Be a GM mode.
I've always enjoyed the management side of sports games. The idea of taking my favorite team, getting rid of the dead weight, and buttressing my core roster members with complementary players never gets old. This passion probably springs from living in my championship-starved hometown – I have yet to see a Minnesota team hoist the Stanley Cup, claim a Super Bowl trophy, or even compete in the NBA Finals. Though the quality of the NHL's franchise experience has waned in recent years, the Be A GM mode is still deep. I lose hours tinkering with the my lineups for both my NHL team and AHL affiliate, proposing trades to improve my roster, scouting for prospects to fit my style of play – and that's just the off-the-ice activities.
On the ice, I typically play through at least a full 82-game season and the playoffs. Some years I burn through a couple seasons before putting the game down, or I fast-forward the franchise a couple of years to land some big-name free agents, shed dead weight, and progress my prospects enough to have them break into the NHL.
The best time sinks are the versitile ones, and for an entire generation the NHL series has fit the bill for me. Whether playing with friends in between periods of actual NHL games or diving deep into the franchise mode, the series offers limitless replayability.