Age of Umpires
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Age of Umpires is a highly successful RPG/Strategy video game series by Microsoft and Ensemble Studios. In it, the player takes control of a team of Umpires with the primary aim of officiating cricket matches.
Currently in its second reincarnation, the series has been massively popular in Britain, Australia, and strangely the United States. Perhaps they get a kick out of seeing blithering British pensioners battered to a pulp...
The game's appeal stretches further than simply umpiring cricket matches. Your ageing officials are constantly in need of supplies, which must be gathered from various parts of the ground. This is where the successful player excels: trips to the pavilion at the end of each over must be swift, as such tasks as collecting six packs of Scrumpy Jack and emptying your bladder must be performed at regular intervals and against the clock. Failure to do so results in crowd disturbances and unless the unruly mob and their heavy projectiles can be avoided, a game over situation results.
Other, impromptu tasks must be completed within set amounts of time: adjusting the sight screen every two balls, avoiding low flying pigeons and seagulls (common at seaside grounds such as Brighton), and fetching your hat when a gust of wind takes it into an adjacent field.
Lunch and Tea breaks offer salvation and a chance to refill your health meter with pickle sandwiches and fairy cakes. The player must, however, be wary of flying objects thrown by dismissed batsmen on the way to and from the changing rooms. Similar problems are faced during rain breaks, when the player must constantly inspect the playing surface and avoid being crushed by the hordes of journalists baying for your blood.
Beginning out in the Wigan and District league, the player must work their way up the cricketing ranks from Sunday League umpire to International Test level. Graduating to each higher level brings new challenges: dealing with Shahid Afridi's pitch tampering or a barrage of Muttiah Muralitharan no-balls await the Test umpire. There is also the added problem of Geoff Boycott, who is a constant danger to the pitch, bouncing balls on bowlers' run ups and widening any cracks which have appeared by sticking his car keys in them. Troublemakers can, however, be dealt with by being driven over with the pitch roller, or dispatched by a discreet knee to the lunchbox.
Age of Umpires II: The Age of Cricket
The most successful game in the series to date is AOU2:Age of Cricket. Boasting improved graphics and game engine, this offered new features unique to the second game, such as the streaker elements, where naked supporters invade the playing area and must be chased off before play can continue.
The player was also now able to select from a wider range of umpires past and present, and the new 'create-a-git' option allowed for more customisation than ever before.
Perhaps the greatest improvement of all, however, was the introduction of an Overseas bank account, to which bungs, another all new feature, could be paid. Underhand deals such as halting play for bad light at 1:50pm, inadvertently 'missing' LBW decisions or placing balls in dangerously random positions during practise sessions in return for monetary rewards were now an essential for game progress. Amounting large wads of cash allowed for increased pension money, and a retirement fund which needed to reach £3,000 before the game's final secrets were unlocked.
Playable umpires Roster
Age of Umpires II boasts an impressive selection of real-life Umpires and match officials: over 40 in all. The more skilled ones have special abilities which aid the player during the game:
- David Shepherd's incredibly mobile limbs and slimline figure allow him to evade attacks and/or oncoming traffic with ease. However he is slightly vulnerable when the score totals 111, 222, 333 etc. due to him temporarily losing the use of his left leg.
- Billy Bowden has an unusual method of dismissing batsmen: instead of using index finger to point to pavilion, he has been known to give batsmen the v-sign send-off. Naturally, this too has its problems.
- Dickie Bird, an unlockable character, has incredible Superman-like vision. Therefore he is able to be 100% accurate when giving LBW decisions.
- Peter Wiley is able to down forty-six pints in the space of ten minutes, thus replacing lost health ten times more quickly than the average official.
- John Prescott is incredibly intelligent, and has potential to be a consistent official. However instead he usually decides to deck egg-tossing miscreants. Also has an increased pie devouring threshold.
- First completion: Dickie Bird unlocked: now playable and edible.
- Second completion: Metal box available: offers extra protection.
- Third completion: Aussie mode unlocked: can you complete the ultimate challenge of umpiring a drug-fuelled Shane Warne whilst under the influence of thirteen cans of Foster's?
Additional notable unlockables:
- £3,000 retirement fund: Retire to Prestatyn to wear cardigans and eat jam butties for the remainder of the game.
- Find the tunnel from the Lord's Tavern which leads to the secret alcohol storage room in Freddie Flintoff's basement.
Age Of Umpires III:The Age of Old Gits
Microsoft have now confirmed that a third game in the AOU series is in development. The Age of Old Gits is set to include all new game modes, an experience points system (based on pints devoured) and an 'OAP-friendly' online gaming feature. It is not known at this point whether Mick Jagger will make a guest appearance as a guitar-playing 12th man.
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