Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review: Survival of the fittest

Shadow of the Tomb Raider (SOTTR) is the latest addition in a well storied game franchise which has seen our protagonist take on all manner of guises in the past. This version, however, may be her most well-rounded to date, as Lara Croft shows just how capable she is.

Whereas other titles have tried to emulate the feel of Nathan Drake and the Uncharted lineup, SOTTR tries to distinguish itself by making Croft predator instead of prey.

Yes, the odds are highly stacked against her favour, with shadow organisation Trinity to take care of along with the small problem of a Mayan apocalypse, but, Croft still appears more than capable of handling the massive tasks in front of her.

This is juxtaposed nicely with her emotional conflict, as she tries to come to grips with the ramifications of her actions, as well as trying to cope with the loss of her parents and father in particular.

All in all, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a well-balanced title.

That said there is still something missing to make gamers want to return to the action of SOTTR. Here’s why.

New perspectives

Developer Crystal Dynamics has done a great job of immersing you into the action of SOTTR. It’s their use of different camera angles in particular that initially sucks you in.

In the opening chapter of the game for example, where Croft is stuck in the crevice of a cave, the camera moves in tightly as gamers help her navigate the constricting environment.

The same sort of unique angles are used when Croft is swimming underwater and has to use an air pocket in order to take another deep breath. It happens once again when swan diving into a body of water, or making you through obstacles.

These changes in perspective are great in enhancing the gaming experience at first, but after a while become a bit too choreographed. As such, a bit more dynamism would have been appreciated in order to keep us engaged throughout the campaign.

One with nature

Tapping into the survival element of SOTTR, exploring and collecting resources is an essential part of the game. Not only are the resources important in crafting weapons and tools (arrows for your trusty bow in particular), but it also plays a role in how effectively Croft can heal herself.

Added to this survival-driven gameplay are interesting aspects like covering Croft in mud in order to blend into walls. There are also patches of tall grass that offer good camouflage when hiding from a group of enemies.

This becomes an important part of gameplay as Croft is often outgunned by her enemies, and rather has to take out a group one by one in order to get by. This does require patience, and for the right kind of gamer should prove quite satisfying.

Sure, gunning down enemies in barrage of bullets may be fun, but there is something to putting an arrow through the neck of a soldier while perched undetected on a tree that an automatic rife just isn’t going to give you.

While Croft is mastering the South American jungle she finds herself in, it must be said that the animals in the game can also prove quite the threat themselves. In the opening few stanzas of the game, there are a handful of encounters with a jaguar that leave you worse for wear, and swimming underwater always carries the risk of attacks from piranha or eels.

Mixed martial arts

Sticking with the fighting elements of SOTTR, this proves to be a bit of a mixed experience.

Taking out enemies with a bow and arrow, or sneaking up behind them with a knife in hand is great, but when Croft has a gun, things feel far less smooth.

Finding cover while taking fire for example is next to impossible and trying to shoot at multiple enemies in succession is equally difficult. While we’re sure that Crystal Dynamics have done all they can to make the gun mechanics as good as possible, it feels like more time and effort went into the weapons that don’t fire bullets.

One other aspect that proved confusing is Croft’s inability to fight hand to hand, which becomes worryingly evident if you have not crafted any arrows and are suddenly face-to-face with a threat.

If Croft were able to use her fists for some of the action in-game, it would have proved a far more well-rounded experience. But perhaps that’s something for the next Tomb Raider game to take care of.

The right balance

Our mixed experience with the fighting mechanics aside, one thing that SOTTR does well is balance all the elements of gameplay.

To that end, it feels like your time isn’t spent or focused on doing one thing in particular. As such each chapter of the game will have parts where Croft will be puzzle-solving in order to figure out Mayan prophecies or traps, along with exploring the environment in order to gather necessary resources and of course stalking enemies before taking them out stealthily.

Added to all these aspects is Croft’s instinct ability, which can be used to highlight points of interest in the environment, where her next objective is or a few hints on how to solve a puzzle. We found ourselves using it in particular with the latter, as some of the puzzles did prove a bit of a challenge.

The final verdict

One of the problems that SOTTR suffers with is length, taking roughly 15 hours to complete based on how good you are.

When you factor in that there is not much to do after the campaign is done, unlike other recent titles like God of War or Marvel’s Spider-Man, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is missing that essential element to make gamers want to play it a couple of times over.

That might make it sound like the game isn’t worth playing, but that is not the case. For fans of the franchise, and Tomb Raider’s recent rebooted look and feel in particular, SOTTR is a welcome addition.

It balances things nicely, giving gamers playable flashbacks of Croft’s childhood, well voice-acted cut scenes and a great stealth gameplay mechanic.

Our hope is that should there be a new game in this franchise it will increase the sandbox and possibly add a few more tombs to raid once the campaign is done.


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