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on March 2, 2006
The Action Replay MAX is more than just a video game enhancer (VGE)....or at least it claims to be. My version is quite old yet but it claims to include a Region-free DVD player and a memory card compression utility (squeeze more saves onto your memory card). I have not used either of these features personally, but I have heard horror stories about the memory manager corrupting gamesaves and whole memory cards; some reusable, some permanently damaged. This and the fact that you must load up the action replay software to access saves that use the memory manager turned me off of using it. However, the real reason I bought the ARMax was for its codes and I'll get to those in a second.
The ARMax, like the newer Gamesharks, loads its software from a CD. This is a major annoyance for me. Every time you load a game you must insert the ARMax memory card (which does I don't know what) and CD, go sit on the couch and wait for the software to load, choose your codes, then get up and put the actual game DVD in and wait for it to load. You can't simply turn on your PS2 and go sit down. In the old days of cartridge gaming you would snap the VGE between the game and the console so you could turn on the console and go sit down. The early generation Gamesharks had a little box that would attach to an expansion slot on the PS1 or N64 and that was it. If you wanted it to load before the game, you turned on its switch. Even if the ARMax was perfect in every other way (and it's not, btw), it would get a maximum of 4 stars as long as you had to boot it from a CD first. I mean, why can't the memory card part of it at least hold the codes for even just the current game you're playing after the system is shut off or reset so you don't have to load the software EVERY D@MN TIME.
Ok, rant over. On to the codes. The user interface for the ARMax is better than the Gameshark. Functionally, they are very similar of course, but the ARMax just feels cleaner and easier to use. It offers a Beginner interface that includes descriptions of code functions (not for user-entered ones though, if I remember right), and a more robust Expert Mode. On big advantage, in theory, that the ARMax has over the Gameshark is its ability to update itself using your PS2's broadband connection. The upshot is you can download new codes for your favorite games fairly quickly instead of manually typing in them all using the controller. The dark cloud to go with this silver lining is that you have no control over which codes you download; its all or nothing. And since these updates are stored on your memory card (not the ARMax one), it will quickly fill up with codes and gamesaves for games 99% of which your will NEVER play! No wonder the ARMax has to option to come with 16 or 32MB of space on its memory card. It's to store all the useless codes! Any codes you choose to apply will either work, do nothing, or lock up the game. I have come across all, though to ARMax's credit, mostly the former. The absurd choice forcing you to download and save updates for every game in the PS2 library when you may want just one loses the ARMax another star. A note about manually entering codes: The sub-headings and folders for a game have their own codes that must be entered if you want them to show up in the game's code list.
Finally, as mentioned in the reviews by Bret Morris and Glenn Nichols, the ARMax initially did not work with the new revision of the fat PS2 a couple years ago AT ALL. This happened for me as well. I returned three PS2s and two ARMaxes before I realized it was a defect in all current versions (at the time) of ARMax. I had to send away and get a new disc direct from Intec which now works as well as expected. Since the ARMax has been on shelves for several years since I bought mine, I assume any bought today would not have this problem. However, at the time there was no way to find out about this problem without contacting Intec personally. Retailers were not aware of the problem and no notices were posted on the CodeJunkies web site. This inadequate treatment of a widespread problem drops ARMax down to two stars.
In my opinion, if you're in the market for a VGE, both ARMax and Gameshark have their pros and cons. I would assume both have released newer versions with newer features than the ones I have. Looks at the specs, assume nothing, and don't be afraid to e-mail the companies requesting details regarding any features you have questions about.
I apologize for the length of this review, but I find there are very few in-depth reviews of VGEs on the web or in print. Maybe reviewers feel they are above using VGEs, I don't know.