After Kurt Kesler tackled the tricks of vanilla and Boom mapmaking, he moved on to the newest advanced source port in development - ZDoom. KZDOOM has seven entries spanning from 1999 to 2001; KZDOOM4 goes by "Castle of the Damned" and as such is part of an anomaly in Kesler's career. Kurt usually stuck to techbases and metal and the mountain wilderness that surrounds the UAC's isolated structures. This map belongs to the less-explored theme of wood and brick, including several small gothic outposts and a trip to the bowels of Hell. Kesler has opted not to give you any context for your adventure, leaving any justification to the player's imagination.
"Castle" opens up in something like a Hellish sewer, cramped and nasty while you navigate the bridge and pit of embers for some armaments. You quickly escape to the crater where you meet most of the action. An enormous bridge connects the passageway to a fortress in the center of the lake, but you aren't bound by any direction; just leap off whenever you feel like and get to blastin'! One point of interest you'll want to reach is the little boat dock with the rocket launcher, which should help when a giant hole tears the earth open and unleashes a handful of stealth cacodemons. Yes, there are stealth monsters, including some shifty demons in the inundated caldera and a baron whose appearance is telegraphed.
Once you beat the badasses and secure all three keys, you reach the exit teleporter. You know you're not done, though, judging by the monster count, and the stinking air and cherry-red river confirm your teleport location. From here the map turns into a cavern crawl down the side of a fissure where beasties like mancubuses and cacodemons assault you while you inch forward to the suspicious structure near the end, which is staffed with four arch-viles that need to be disposed of. Once gone, the exit is revealed with an impressive explosion, plus a crowd of imps in an ineffective attempt to herd you toward the moonlight. There's just too much ammo to burn and lots of health lying around.
It's fun playing something slightly less linear, though Kesler's castle levels tend to be smaller as a rule, so there's less blasting and exploring to do. The "boss" encounter is nice, and the stealth monsters aren't entirely grating. Another interesting bit which adds to the atmosphere is the fact that there's no music, which may just be the way ZDoom handles an older MAPINFO lump. In any case, enjoy this slightly lighter offering from Kesler. It may not be as ornate as his usual thematic fare, but it's still a good play.