Alma appears in front of you as a ghost. She is girlish, as thin as an unfed fence post, translucent-white. Most of the time, Alma just stands there, or shakes your shoulders. For such a slight thing, she is the "mother of the apocalypse." Or, at least, that's her goal in the afterlife. Little girl: big plans.
Lucky for you, in "F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin," you may be able to stop her. You are a Delta Force "black operative" named Michael Becket. While Alma wields the ability to absorb people to suckle their psychic energy, you may be immune to her appetite for destruction.
Annnd that's about the extent of the storyline in "Fear 2." Elsewhere, video games have blossomed into long, novelistic tales. But some games are less heavy on story. "Fear 2" gives you a peek at this Alma-Michael Becket showdown plot, then becomes an exercise where you shoot henchmen for 12 to 20 hours.
That's acceptable in this instance, because "Fear 2" does the other main stuff right. It's a spectacularly conceived horror-adventure featuring realistic sets of hospital wards, cityscapes of rubble and penthouse condos. Music is creepy. And shootings, and the feel of body movement, are close to perfect.
Consider some intricate, ancillary details that cross your path: There's a head, with a helmet on it, in a clothes dryer; yellow, cautionary "wet floor" signs are on some floors, and if you kick them, they move; you jump through a window and land on a scaffold, which shakes and moves as a scaffold would.
I don't want to wax too much about the sets and sights, since many games are elaborate. But it's important to appreciate powerful settings, especially in a horror title, to deliver mood. "Fear 2" would not succeed without these moody atmospherics, which excel further with its creative, lush music score.
Top Ten New Games
1. "Mario Kart" (Nintendo) for Wii; also available for DS; rated "E" (comic mischief)
2. "Super Mario Galaxy" (Nintendo) for Wii; rated "E" (mild violence)
3. "Wii Fit" (Nintendo) for Wii; rated "E" (comic mischief)
4. "Army of Two" (EA) or Xbox 360; also available for PS 3; rated "M" (strong language, blood, intense violence)
5. "F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin" (Warner Bros. Interactive) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3 and PC; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
6. "Army of Two" for PS 3
7. "Mario Party DS" (Nintendo) for DS; rated "E" (comic mischief)
8. "Imagine: Party Babyz" (Ubisoft) for Wii; rated "E" (comic mischief)
9. "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" (Nintendo) for Wii; rated "T" (cartoon violence, crude humor)
10. "New Super Mario Brothers" (Nintendo) for DS; rated "E" (comic mischief)
(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone"; "T" for "Teen"; "M" for "Mature 17+").
As an orchestra swells, Alma pops up in front of you unexpectedly. So do villainous soldiers, as well as glob-people who crawl fast on the ground at you. All this happens in dark rooms, as you walk forward by way of a flashlight attached to your gun. You turn corners. Suddenly, glob-people are in your face.
I don't consider "Fear 2" scary, certainly not in a league with the first "Resident Evil" or "The Suffering." But it is startling. Online multiplayer is fun if basic. And guns are superb, from the pistol to a "napalm cannon," which flings fire at villains, who swat at flames engulfing them then crumple in a heap.
To be precise, three things are lacking. The plot is so transparent, it's a ghost. Dialogue is sparse, although there's one fantastic comic line of narration about Alma: "You're like free pizza at an anime convention. She can smell you." And nothing much is new here.
After all, Alma is a girl who whispers in sinister tones, a la "The Exorcist" and "The Ring." And the first "Fear" already dug some of this territory. It's not groundbreaking. It's ground raking. Good thing, though: "Fear 2" rakes fertile ground, if barely below the surface.
("F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin" by Warner Bros. Interactive retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $30 for PC - Plays fun, with good game play overcoming a hollow story. Looks great. Moderately challenging to quite challenging, depending on settings you choose. Rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language. Three and one-half stars out of four.)
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/elfman.