A quick press of the PS button brings up the in-game XMB, although it doesn't automatically pause the game. Actually, as Sony pointed out to us, some current games will pause ... others won't. Sony isn't mandating that future games pause when the XMB is called, leaving that decision up to developers.
The most useful aspect of the in-game XMB is the ability to communicate with other PSN users on your friends list – which can now contain up to 100 users – without leaving your game. This is done entirely through text-based messaging; unfortunately, Sony confirmed that it is not possible to initiate a private voice chat and keep your friend with you across games as on Xbox Live.
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You can, for example, message a friend and tell them you are currently playing Resistance, and would like them to join you, but there's no option to send any sort of game invite. That functionality will instead be up to developers to build into their games.
The ability to stream your own music off the HDD during gameplay is a feature of 2.40, but only works in games that have been designed to utilize it. If the game you're playing supports custom music playback, a new on-screen overlay can be brought up from the in-game XMB, with options for previous/next track, stop, repeat, shuffle, and volume. Sony demo'd this feature using PixelJunk Monsters Encore
, but didn't divulge which other upcoming titles will support it (or if current ones can / will have it patched in).
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We were surprised by the fact that the in-game XMB displays all of the standard XMB functionality, including video, music, photos, and so on. You can select anything from the menus, but it's not guaranteed to work. If the feature isn't supported in-game, you'll get a message asking if you'd like to quit the game to access it. Seeing this in action, we couldn't help but think it would have made more sense for the in-game XMB to be contextual, displaying only the options that could actually be utilized in-game.
Then there's the new trophy system, which is easily the most significant addition to the PS3 in terms of community features since it launched. Click here
for our full look at what it's all about and how it works.
"The update still seems decidedly behind the curve in several areas."
Our feelings about this latest PS3 update are mixed. On the one hand, there are handy features such as the ability to communicate with friends without quitting your game and on-the-fly accessory adjustments. On the other, the update still seems decidedly behind the curve in several areas. There's no private voice chat across games, no auto-pause when the XMB is triggered, custom soundtracks are not available in all games. Given the time that Sony has had to study its competition – namely Xbox Live – we'd expected to finally see at least a one-to-one match in terms of basic features.
Sony remains adamant that it will continue to "evolve" the features introduced in the 2.40 update across future firmware revisions. We hope that the key areas we've mentioned get attention sooner rather than later.