Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review: It’s So Jank, It’s Almost Impressive!

The Lowdown

From my recollection, the Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s story was weaker than the previous two games in the series, but I like that Lara received a conclusion (for now?) to her story. Perhaps it’s the engine the game runs on, maybe it was a time crunch leading to launch, or perhaps it’s sheer developmental oversight, but they could have done so much better here.



  • Gorgeous and scenic environments
  • “Collect Them All” elements that provide you with a tangible bonus to your gameplay
  • Unique tombs, not a lot of re-used concepts


  • Optimization and graphical bugs that slow down the experience
  • Shoddy movement controls
  • The story is just okay

Holy sh*t, people, do I have some filth to say about this game! Shadow of the Tomb Raider is right in the sweet spot of games for me not only to play but to review because while I did end up enjoying the experience overall due to my rolodex of neurological quirks, it had so many problems that I can relentlessly dunk on it with abject glee. It’s essentially the baby bear’s bed Goldilocks trespassed into, so forgive my exuberance and elation; it’s been a long month.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third game in a new series that brings the nostalgia of the original Lara Croft character to the modern era, complete with all the bells and whistles that big studios like to shove into the experience to justify to their shareholders they’ve done something right.

I’ve played this game for 25 hours; here are my thoughts.

Lara Croft in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

She’s already mad at me, and we haven’t even begun.

What’s Going on in Shadow of the Tomb Raider?

So in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you’re Lara Croft, and you’re raiding tombs, big surprise. From a macro view of the series, this game has made an attempt to go back to the roots of actually exploring ancient temples and ruins filled to the brim with traps and death cutscenes to uncover ancient treasures that British people somehow feel they have the right to take for themselves.

This is going to be a little bit jarring for those who are unfamiliar with the previous two entries into the series, so I’ll summarise briefly what’s been going on here.

Basically, Lara has been traversing the world and exploring the stuff ancient civilizations have left behind, only to find out that there are mystical forces beyond human comprehension at work in all the places she goes.

Often spearheaded by cultists worshipping these arcane forces, Lara is forced to not only escape with her skin intact but also to throw a monkey wrench into various diabolical schemes for world domination.

Often at the helm of these schemes is a shadow organization called Trinity. Due to the fact that they killed Croft’s father, she also spends a decent amount of time uncovering and dismantling any Trinity operation that she can find.

It’s hilarious that although this description is very basic, it’s literally all you ever need to know about the plotline and, even funnier, pretty much all that I can tell you because the stories were so generic I genuinely couldn’t remember anything specific unless I looked it up.

Think of Shadow of the Tomb Raider as Pirates of the Caribbean, where it’s the same formula with bits and pieces swapped around every time. There’s a protagonist; you’re scrambling across the remnants of ancient humans, immortal or mystical enemies after you, and a megalomaniac paramilitary group behind it all.


Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Men, amirite?

Anyway, in terms of general thematic progression between the titles, Tomb Raider (2013) was an introduction to the new game structure combining stealth, action, and exploration; Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) tilted a bit more towards combat. In contrast, this one seems to be leaning back towards exploration and environmental navigation.

Gear up, though, as I have a lot to say about this choice of theirs.

Playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a decent job of moving you from one lukewarm plot point to another, but there’s plenty to do in the meantime.

In the overworld, you control Croft in third-person mode (your camera is behind her head and looking over either shoulder), and you’re left pretty much to your own devices to explore the various parts of the map.

Embracing the theme that Croft is an “archaeologist” (when, in my opinion, she’s more like Angelina Jolie’s character in Salt than anything), you most strikingly will notice collectibles you can acquire all around the environment.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Picking these up gives you a little snippet into the culture of the civilization you’re tussling with, but it will also grant you progress on your experience bar.

These collectibles range from toys left behind by ancient Mayan children to documents left behind by previous explorers to steles that allow you to decipher parts of ancient dialects to literal conquistador chests stuffed with gold.

Now I can hear some of you thinking, “Who gives a shit? Why would I bother collecting any of this crap?” That’s because these recent Tomb Raider games incorporate an elaborate skill tree that dramatically increases Lara’s capacity to stay alive and find success in her archaeological exploits through her journey.

For example, one particular skill allows you to automatically execute an unarmoured enemy immediately after you dodge a melee attack from them, which, as you can imagine, is quite handy in the midst of a firefight.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a skill that allows you to mark these collectibles when you activate your “survivor vision,” which is extremely helpful for maximizing your efficiency.

Skills in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

XP can be acquired through killing things for sure, but a far more reliable (and risk-free) method is picking up these artifacts whenever you see them.

You will likely not be able to collect everything in one go, however, because some areas and, therefore, collectibles are locked behind equipment barriers that you will not be able to access until the narrative hands them over. An example is needing a shotgun to blow the pants off iron barricades that often hold treasure behind them.

On the subject of skills, some in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are locked behind narrative-based blockades, and this brings us to arguably the core portion of this game…Tomb Raiding.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I don’t even wanna know what these spikes are for.

Apparently, every ancient civilization that has ever existed is full of incredible engineers and has constructed these pagan deathtraps run by mechanisms modern man can barely understand how to build, let alone comprehend.

These puzzles involve a lot of vertical climbing, creating ziplines, avoiding hazards, and identifying what on earth the game wants you to do next. The carrot at the end of the rainbow is the equipment piece that potentially increases a certain aspect of Lora’s abilities or a special skill that has massive benefits.

Some of the tombs are pretty annoying — scratch that, most of them are — but there were certain designs that I felt to be really clever overall. My personal favorite is a tomb dedicated to a set of twin monkey gods because while there is the usual rumble tumble over the environment progression present in the rest, this one is actually designed to play music at you!

You’re trying to put pieces of the mechanism back in place without getting flattened by an oversized drumstick, and as you put more of the ensemble together, soon you’re having a hell of a jam session.

The woodwinds start to thrum in harmony, and the bongs of the drums that at first seem so lethal become a nice pattern to exploit; all the while, in the distance, a gigantic monkey statue slams two massive drumsticks down like some golem-esque conductor.

It’s quite a sight.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Not the tomb I’m talking about…obviously.

I like my tombs with some moxie, but sadly, most were kind of ho-hum. More on that later.

And before you ask, yes, some collectibles in Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be found in these crypts and tombs themselves, so I’d recommend making sure you grab everything before you leave, lest you trek all the way back up these contraptions to get something you’ve missed.

Tombs aren’t labeled on the map at first, so you’ll have to do some exploring or some inquiring to find them.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a cool little “paint by numbers” trick to fill in key points of interest where, if you talk to enough villagers, eventually, people will reveal the locations of secrets they’ve heard from around the map. Do they help you brave the perils? Of course not, but hey, it means you get to keep the loot at the end of the day.

Map in Shadow of the Tomb Raider showing an available mission

It’s not all “Westerners reappropriating indigenous cultural paraphernalia,” though, as Croft has to get her hands dirty quite a bit in the way of opening up people’s skulls with a carefully placed arrow through the eye.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Weapons

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, your core complement of weapons is actually pretty interchangeable but roughly falls into the following categories: a bow, a handgun, a rifle, and a shotgun. You also can repurpose your climbing hooks to eviscerate people in your way, but that’s less reliable.

While you can only equip one of each type at a time, through the course of the game, you will be able to purchase additional weapons that fall into the subgroup, drastically increasing your versatility.

Completing a quest to save a villager’s son from a gang of grave robbers may net you a pistol that does more damage, or you can visit your local elderly merchant who somehow sells military hardware. These weapons are all upgradeable as well, so don’t be bummed out that your rocket punch pistol only holds 6 bullets at the start.

A merchant in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Granny is packing some heat!

What’s more, by scrounging up resources from the environment and unlocking the appropriate skill, Lara can create special ammunition that can really be integral in turning a fight in your favor. Incendiary arrows, hallucinogenic grenades, and concussive rounds are all on the menu, and all are pretty useful.

For example, my favorite is an arrow that mesmerizes an enemy and causes them to shoot their allies instead of you. It’s really helpful and quite hilarious to watch.

Stealth kills, however, seem to be the main bread and butter of the combat experience. I wouldn’t say that the fighting is especially challenging. Still, there are quite a few moments where Lara can get overwhelmed by incredibly accurate and perceptive enemies in a small arena.

It is, therefore, prudent to eliminate as many as you can without being noticed before the bullets start flying.

Lara Croft taking down a bad guy in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Night Night, Sucka!

The spectacle of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is also something to commend. Whenever Lara enters an area and sees a massive structure constructed eons ago, the camera will pan up so you can see just how insignificant you are compared to the creation of those who came before.

Even if the interiors were sometimes very middling in terms of quality, you are almost forced to imagine how life would’ve been for those folks back going about their day in the temples.

I think this speaks to something that is a core component of the Tomb Raider experience: a kind of appreciation of the history of the human race and the miracles our predecessors were able to achieve through sacrifice and perseverance. It’s a bit inspiring, to say the least.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

But you know what’s not inspiring?

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Criticisms

So, if Shadow of the Tomb Raider had a lot of checkboxes for me in terms of clearing out the minimap of icons, beautiful graphics, and sweet, sweet violence with a sprinkle of stealth. Why, then, do I have an eagerness to express negativity seeping out of every pore on my body?

Well, to put it simply, they could not have made a more clunky game if they tried, and I was so appalled with some of the core gameplay loop that the pendulum swung around to be amusing instead of frustrating.

First of all, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an exploring game, specifically one that involves traversing grandiose tombs. You’d think that to do this with the copious amounts of platforming and climbing, they’d have designed a precise and controlled system that enables the player agency to navigate the environments gracefully.

EHHHHHH wrong!

Lara moves like she’s just got off a bender, where she feels like there is excess weight and heftiness behind her, making it hard to pull off timely jumps and movements at times.

The controls are laggy, and the inputs are imprecise, meaning I cannot count the times when a prompt should have worked, only for it to simply not and send our lovely protagonist careening into an abyss below.

Lara Croft attempting a jump in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I didn’t make this jump.

This is even worse in combat, where since you’re perpetually locked over her shoulder, you can’t see what’s around you reliably. Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a “dodge roll” that allows you to duck away from incoming attacks, but this would often cause me to get caught on scenery and get hit anyway.

A far more reliable way to survive, in my opinion, is to shoot the hell out of whoever is attacking you before they get close enough to hit you.

The platforming in this game is built around rules where certain aspects of the environment can be leaped over, climbed up, and climbed under, whereas others cannot. This creates an experience where you think Lara could easily make a jump onto a safe spot, but since that ledge isn’t specifically marked as “grabbable,” you will not be able to.

Some of these interactable elements are also quite subtle, so while sprinting away from a trap, for instance, it becomes little more than trial and error instead of masterfully navigating the tomb’s perils.

For a package of mechanics that require such precision to overcome at times, having an imprecise character exacerbated my annoyance.

Lara Croft attempting another jump in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I didn’t make this jump, either.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider also has bugs all over the place that drastically impact the game.

For example, a main core story tomb requires you to unlock a massive seal by matching icons on pillars to the ones in two side chambers. It should be easy, right? As you match the pattern, the next seal opens, and the pillars add another icon underneath it. You repeat this a few more times to progress.

Unfortunately, I could not get the pillars to rotate at all due to a bug in the game, and I was basically stuck outside this door integral for my progression.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

This is not the only time it happened, though. Another instance is trying to rotate a floor pattern to line up grooves that allow flammable oil to reach a destructible barrier. This, once again, did not move, no matter how much I pushed and pulled the apparatus.

After doing some internet sleuthing, it turns out that Shadow of the Tomb Raider freaks out when you have a “Frames Per Second” rate higher than a certain value. I had to cap it at around 60 FPS, and low and behold, the mechanisms moved.

Look, 60 FPS isn’t garbage or anything, but my point is for a studio to still have this oversight in their game is a real knock on the experience.

This issue may not be present on other platforms, but it was certainly obvious on the PC; just keep that in mind.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

When it comes to imprecision, Lara also has a weird floatiness in the air that lends to the challenges present when it comes to mobility.

Despite moving like she’s dragging a mine cart behind her while on the ground, when airborne, Lara has the insane ability to move laterally while she jumps. This soaring freedom is a real juxtaposition to her plodding on the earth, to say the least, and led me to miss my target a few times.

This was especially apparent during chase scenes where you are running from enemies or a natural disaster, and you’re internally screaming at her to move faster, only for her to leap for a hanging rope but suddenly pivot into oblivion upon jumping because that’s the direction you were holding down on the keypad while she was running.

A slew of graphical bugs were also present, most noticeably in my mind when you are rappelling off a surface. Instead of looking natural, the rope will clip through Lara’s body and kind of curl underneath her, further breaking the illusion that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a polished game from a top-tier studio.

Flags and pennants blowing in the wind also presented similar issues, where instead of looking realistic, they spasmed and twitched like teenagers rolling on ecstasy. How this stuff makes it into a “finished product” honestly eludes me.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

It may be hard to see, but the rope bisects Lara; it’s really weird.

Based on Shadow of the Tomb Raider comments, there are mixed reviews on the midgame location where you find the lost city of Paititi and are thrown into an internal conflict between the original Big Bad and the previous royal family of the city. Other gamers found it to be a slow and boring experience, and in some fashion, they are right that the momentum shifts to a more narrative focus.

You are unable to use most of your weapons or change your outfits outside of scripted combat missions, there are a shitload of NPCs to talk to that, more often than not, reveal nothing of value, and there’s a lot of running around looking for artifacts.

I didn’t mind this as much, as I think it’s good that we show Lara as an empathetic individual helping people out as opposed to just simply plundering the cultural riches of lost cultures. It’s important that you know, however, that about 1/3 of Shadow of the Tomb Raider involves running around an ancient city doing side quests.

What I did not appreciate was the fact that they had 3-4 character models for generic NPCs, which means that it could be a bit confusing when your quest giver and quest recipient looked identical.

I remember a moment when I was supposed to identify a traitor in the rebellion where this exact situation played out. From a narrative standpoint, I was unsure whether the guy who tasked me with finding the traitor was the traitor himself or if I had found another individual who just so happened to look the exact same.

It seems a shame they put so much detail into the environments but skimped out on the people living there. It was a weird experience.

And then, we have middling combat AI that uses development cheats to get around the fact that it’s dense. When enemies spot you, everyone in the immediate area will close in on your position as if by telepathy. This makes it very hard to escape back into the shadows unless you are very good at taking out foes very quickly and then navigating out of sight with unparalleled speed.

However, despite all sharing a hive mind, I have managed to lure 5 enemies in a row to the same hiding spot and kill them each one by one. You’d think that they’d have noticed their friends keep disappearing when they go around a particular corner, but nope, lambs to slaughter.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The boys.

This isn’t too horrible, as most games don’t have great combat AI, but it’s still funny to me and needs to be pointed out.

As a sensitive man full of empathy, I would also like to make a final point that if you have claustrophobia or are at all squeamish about brutality, this game may not be for you.

Seeing as most of the structures our protagonist explores in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are falling apart at the seams, there are numerous tight spaces that Lara must shimmy her way through to access the next area.

This is probably a method for the system to render and load the upcoming stage of the temple, but my god, if you don’t like tight spaces, it can be brutal to watch as she struggles and grimaces her way through them. That’s not my phobia (that would be sharks), but you may get triggered if this is you.

Lara Croft in a scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

What’s more, as mentioned above, you will die a lot from missing ledges and rock walls due to a combination of your own mistakes and the game being jank.

Each death in this manner is accompanied by a small cinematic of Lara getting impaled by spikes, tumbling into the abyss, being eaten by coyotes, etc. This can be kind of stressful if you’re uncomfortable with close visceral violence, so this is absolutely something you need to consider before buying the game.

Should You Buy Shadow of the Tomb Raider?

I wanted to like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and at some level, I truly did. But despite it having all the ingredients of a game that I would like to invest my time into, towards the end, I just wanted it to be done.

From my recollection, the Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s story was weaker than the previous two games in the series, but I like that Lara received a conclusion (for now?) to her story. Perhaps it’s the engine the game runs on, maybe it was a time crunch leading to launch, or perhaps it’s sheer developmental oversight, but they could have done so much better here.

The game gives you the option to do the unique challenge tombs, and while they all definitely did have a twist and were all different, I cannot put myself through that again in the near future. The quest to 100% another game will have to wait for next year.

Scene from Shadow of the Tomb Raider

My face when you ask me to play this game a second time without a yearlong gap.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is perpetually on sale, it seems, so if you’re thinking of giving this a purchase, wait for that. If it’s not on discount when you read this, I’m sure it will be soon.

They’ve actually gone and bundled up all the downloadable content into a single “Definitive Edition” as well, so those sales may just be worth it to people with some free time.

This game is a 2.5/5 experience and is only bolstered by the sheer awesomeness of some of the structures visually and the fact that it has a lot of bare-bones mechanics that I appreciate.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider sells for $39.99 (but is often on sale for $9.99); it is available from various retailers, including Steam, Epic, Dell, and Amazon.

Source: Personal Purchase

Developer: Eidos-Montréal

Producer: Crystal Dynamics

What I Like: Gorgeous and scenic environments; “Collect Them All” elements that provide you with a tangible bonus to your gameplay; Unique tombs, not a lot of re-used concepts

What Needs Improvement: Optimization and graphical bugs that slow down the experience; Shoddy movement controls; The story is just okay


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About the Author

Flint Pickleback
Just some guy who plays video games to disconnect from the world. Wine is often involved, which thoroughly enhances the experience. I'm playing these games on an custom build, with 32GB RAM, 13th Gen Intel Core i7-13700KF, and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 Ti 12GB Graphics Card. Please send pitches to "[email protected]" with "[email protected]" cced.

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