Gameplay modes in The Evil Within and its sequel are divided into two primary categories: Difficulty settings and New Game+.
New Game+ is unlocked as soon as the story is completed, and allows the player to start the game again with any progress to upgrades and collectible retained, along with additional unlockable items. A cleared save can then be used to start a New Game+ at any time regardless of completion, and progress will be copied over from that point. A New Game+ can only be started on the highest difficulty setting it was completed on and below.
Enemies slain during a New Game+ drops more items than usual to aid with unlocking Sebastian's remaining upgrades. Completing the main campaign of both games also grants the player additional resources upon starting New Game+, though this bonus is one-time only, and any promotional item given at the start of the first playthrough are not granted again.
At the outset of both games and the DLCs, only a limited handful of modes are available to play, but harder settings can be unlocked by completing the story once. The sole exception to this rule is The Executioner, which is hard-coded to always play in Survival mode at all times.
With the exception of the aforementioned DLCs, the higher difficulty levels cannot be chosen for a New Game+ when first unlocked to prevent cheesing with upgraded/unlocked gear, thus requiring the player to start multiple playthroughs to unlock everything. Higher difficulty settings usually have special gimmicks that make gameplay more challenging, but will award useful items or upgrades once completed.
Lowering gameplay difficulty mid-game is possible, though the play mode cannot be tuned back up without starting a new game.
Casual is the easiest setting of The Evil Within and The Evil Within 2, and offers more of a narrative experience than actual survival horror. Enemies encountered in this mode are expectedly weak, dumb, and bosses do not take much effort at all to kill. Burning corpses with matches or torches in the first game is almost redundant on Casual due to the reduced enemy health and abundant ammo finds. Auto-aim is enabled by default and enemy awareness icons are fully-visible.
Casual is unlocked from the get-go along with Survival.
Survival is the default difficulty setting of both the games and DLCs. Featuring a balanced mix of challenge and casual gameplay, enemies are more aware than on Casual and takes more damage to drop. Ammunition are rather sparse and most downed enemies require matches to effectively kill. Most bosses are amped up to the point where reckless combat is inadvisable. Auto-aim is enabled by default and enemy awareness icons are fully-visible.
Survival is unlocked from the get-go along with Casual. It is also the default and lowest possible setting for The Assignment, The Consequence and The Executioner.
Nightmare is the optimal or "intended" mode that The Evil Within games are to be played on. Enemies on Nightmare are intelligent, strong, and hardy, with erratic patrol patterns and are very capable of mobbing/ambushing tactics that prove fatal if Sebastian is caught off-guard. Bosses are highly encouraged to be fled from, and are super tough resource sinks when they have to be fought. Stealth play is all but mandatory on Nightmare, though not strictly required if the player knows what to do. Auto-aim is disabled on Nightmare and enemy alertness icons are not visible.
Nightmare is unlocked by completing the game once. Completing the game on either Nightmare or AKUMU unlocks the Brass Knuckles for Sebastian to use during the next run.
悪夢 -AKUMU- (lit. "Evil") is the absolute worst The Evil Within has to offer. While the basics are identical to Nightmare, AKUMU itself has one big twist: taking any damage at all kills Sebastian instantly, regardless of health upgrades. This includes even the most minor and sometimes self-inflicted instances like detonating an Agony bolt too close to oneself or stepping into a burning oil spill.
Uncommon enemies appear much sooner than normal (e.g. Doppelgangers can appear as early as Chapter 3). Enemies drop less Green Gel when killed, and ammo is even less common than it already is, forcing the player to be frugal and sneaky. Overall AKUMU demands a great deal of skill and finesse from the player, or else the checkpoint loading screen will be the most common thing they'll be seeing in a while.
AKUMU is unlocked by completing the game once. Completing the game on either Nightmare or AKUMU unlocks the Brass Knuckles for Sebastian to use during the next run.
- Avoid Collectibles like the plague! There are already enough problems as it is on this mode, getting distracted by non-helpful items doesn't make life any better.
- Keys, however, are useful to get, since the lockers they open can provide Sebastian with precious resources.
- Health upgrades are useless due to Sebastian's one-hit-wonder debuff, therefore Green Gel are better off spent on weapon upgrades instead. Focusing heavily on the Shotgun, Sniper Rifle, Magnum and Agony Crossbow can carry the player a long way.
- Due to their high utility values, focus on upgrading Explosive, Flash and Freeze bolts to make the most out of the Crossbow. Harpoon bolts can also be situationally useful when maxed out as well.
- Kneecapping enemies with the Handgun and burning clumps of them with a match is a viable strategy in the early game. Once the Critical upgrades have been maxed out, aim for the head for instant kills, which can be a lifesaver later on.
- Save Green Gel for the Magnum damage upgrades. Maximize this stat and save it for bosses. The most viable combo against bosses on AKUMU is "Freeze → Magnum" (i.e. one Freeze bolt followed by one to three Magnum shots), repeat as necessary. This can decimate the likes of the Sadist, Laura and Quell in seconds, and The Keeper in one square hit.
- Snipe as much as one's ammo stock allows for to thin out the herd. The Amalgam Alpha is especially vulnerable against a sniping Sebastian. Simply hide behind a large pillar and take potshots at the creature. Shooting its eye will stun it for a short period, where one follow up shot will severely damage it (don't fire more than once, as this gives away Sebastian's location). Repeat this once to send the boss into phase 2, at which point the "Freeze → Magnum" combo can be pulled off to decimate it in moments.
- Not all hits are instant kills, however, as getting charged by the Sentinel, while painful, only takes off as much health as can be healed by a Syringe, though the game compensates for this by littering the arena with bear traps.
- ALWAYS sneak when possible. Even if there is no enemy in sight, running recklessly might accidentally lead Sebastian right into an ambush or traps, which are always pleasant to deal with.
- Memorize where traps are to lure powerful enemies into them. The Chapter 3 Sadist in particular has plenty of mines and tripwires in and around the arena for Sebastian to utilize, though always remember to keep a healthy distance away from the traps to avoid cheap deaths. Bosses can take many trap hits before dying, Sebastian can only take one.
- Always keep an Axe on hand. One may never know when the nearest Haunted may suddenly make a U-turn and foil the attempted sneak attack with a one-hit kill.
- If a sneak attempt goes wrong and powerful/many enemies are abound, HIDE! And wait for them to disperse before leaving cover.
- If there are ample amounts of Bottles around (which there usually are, to compensate for the reduction of pickups), throwing them as far as possible while within earshot can make life easier by drawing enemies away from crucial paths.
- If all else fails, running IS an option in certain cases, as with the exception of bosses, most enemies will get bored and stop pursuit after Sebastian is far enough away from them. Invest heavily into Sprint upgrades to make this viable.
- The invisible Haunted can be a tremendous threat on AKUMU if Sebastian cannot predict where they will come from. If an invisible one is making its way towards the player, try to place as many movable objects between the two parties so that the Haunted will give its position away by bumping into them.
- Save often and in multiple slots so that accidents don't cause further screw ups down the line.
KURAYAMI (lit. "Darkness") is the most challenging difficulty setting in The Assignment and The Consequence. In contrast to AKUMU or Nightmare, KURAYAMI does not beef up the enemies that Juli Kidman encounters on her journey, but instead covers the entire map in pitch darkness that is only maneuverable with the flashlight on, or with thrown chemical lights in the second DLC.
Completing either DLC unlocks KURAYAMI as an available mode for its next run.
- While enemies can see Juli, they don't react to her flashlight, allowing for easier maneuverability with it toggled on. Thrown chemlights are likewise ignored unless they hit an enemy.
- Always keep an Axe handy. Unlike Sebastian, Juli doesn't have a knife to freely stealth kill enemies with, so axes must be spent wisely. Only kill an enemy if there's no other choice.
- Most enemies don't react to Juli peeking around or over cover unless at very close ranges. Use this along with the flashlight to your advantage.
- Shade becomes much easier to spot in this mode due to her lamp head illuminating the darkness around her, to the point where simply shooting where the light comes from during her boss fight is enough.
Classic mode is a new setting available in The Evil Within 2. In basic gameplay principles it is identical to Nightmare, though due to certain technical difficulties in operating the STEM system, saving is restricted to manual only, and can only be done seven times across the game's 17 chapters. Enemies no longer drop Crafting parts or Green Gel when slain due to the removal of upgrades.
Classic mode is unlocked by completing the game once.
- Sebastian will only die from damage taken during normal play. Scripted events where he is supposed to be struck by enemies (e.g. being sliced in the leg by the Sadist in Chapter 1, being rammed by the Amalgam Alpha before the boss fight, etc...) will have him survive as usual.
- The bonus weapon parts (both common and High-grade) from The Last Chance Pack are still given at the start of Chapter 3, however these will be unusable due to the lack of an Upgrade screen.
- Viewing Photographic Slides no longer gives Green Gel, though synchronizing Residual Memories still does.
- The shooting gallery offers herbs and gunpowder only, making it a good source of crafting ingredients.
| First Step Into Darkness|
Completed the game on Casual difficulty.
| Another Day on the Job|
Completed the game on Survival difficulty.
| Master of Horror|
Completed the game on Nightmare difficulty.
| You Asked For It|
Completed the game on 悪夢(AKUMU) difficulty.
| Not Afraid of the Dark|
Clear The Assignment in KURAYAMI mode.
| None More Dark|
Clear The Consequence in KURAYAMI mode.
- While the series is known for its survival horror roots and nature, creator Shinji Mikami actually intends for the games to be played on Casual difficulty if possible, as he felt the added challenge on higher modes distracts from the game's narrative and causes needless frustrations to players newer to the genre.
- Starting a New Game+ in The Evil Within 2 has the camera transit to the scene of the burning house instead of slowly zooming into the newspaper on the desk when starting a fresh playthrough.
- Completing Classic mode shows an additional splash screen depicting Sebastian and Lily living happily together in what looks to be a recreation of their old family home, along with the total elapsed time for that playthrough and the amount of saves left as of completion.
- A black cat similar to Juli Kidman's STEM companion can be seen playing with the family in said screen, albeit now wearing a blue collar instead of red.
- Classic mode actually allots the player 8 save attempts instead of 7, as it still allows one to make a cleared game save at the end of Chapter 17 even if the allowed 7 have all been exhausted.