What do Call of Duty 2: Black Ops and Britney Spears have in common? A song at the end of the world.

There has always been an apocalyptic appeal to Call of Duty games, from the fire-lit night shootouts of the first game to the collapse of the Eiffel Tower in Modern Warfare 3. Seeing the edifices of modernity reduced to a smoldering aftermath answers a morbid “what if?” that we can never seem to get enough of. Black Ops 2 takes this curiosity to a strange new place that combines the will to see the end of the world with a primal musicality. 

The demo opens with an attack on Los Angeles, a grand plot orchestrated against the G20 leaders meant to “cripple the capitalist leaders around the world.” After a string of firefights through the smokey brown hell of downtown Los Angeles, the demo climaxes when players climb into a small spy plane and protect a caravan of armored vehicles from aerial attack. The scene is underscored by a guttural industrial song that slams out a war beat while syncopated guitars swell and fade away. 

The beat of the music accompanies the pace of enemy encounters, with new clusters of enemy planes entering whenever the beat crescendos. The pneumatic wail of the plane’s machine gun adds a player-driven element to this rhythmic beast. It sounds like a sort of compressed siren screaming over the dropped bass line at the end of the world, and there is a powerful desire to fire the gun in time with the beat.

It’s reminiscent of a strain of pop music that has become obsessed with scenes of world ending. In “We R Who We R,” Ke$ha sings “Tonight we’re going hard/ Just like the world is ours/ We’re tearing it apart.” In “Til the World Ends” Britney Spears launches a dustup rhapsody for the endgames, “See the sunlight, we ain’t stopping’, Keep on dancing till the world ends.” In Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “No Church in the Wild,” Frank Ocean croons over a hard stomp, “Human beings in a mob, What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything? Will he make it out alive? No church in the wild.”

There is a fine line between a beat and a blow. In the imaginary spaces of ruin in Black Ops 2, the end times is half tragedy and half a primeval celebration of noisemaking, with enemy planes flying across the sky like musical notes.