Evolve is an asymmetrical multiplayer game for five players. It is played with a team of four humans against a single monster, all controlled by human players. It does not contain a separate single-player mode, but the game can be played by a single player with up to four bots controlling the remaining spots. The game is set in the future and takes place at Shear, a planet far away that has been colonized. The valuable colonies are soon attacked by different kinds of monsters. To deal with the threat, war veteran William Chabot is brought out of retirement and he assembles a team of hunters to eliminate the monsters.
The human side consists of four classes. There are Assaults (damage), Medics (health), Supports (tools) and Trappers (Tracking). Players assemble a team with any combination of the classes to hunt down the monster. There are multiple characters per class with different secondary skills and abilities and each class has different general abilities. Assaults use a personal shield for temporary invulnerability, Medics use health burst to provide health in a radius, Supports can activate a radius of cloaking, and Trappers use a Mobile Arena energy dome shield to narrow down the area where the monster can be found. Secondary skills are different for each character. Hunter Abe for instance has a track dart gun to track monsters or tag food (which marks the monster when it is consumed). The other Hunter Griffin can deploy spikes to detect and movement and the Hunter Maggie releases a pet trapjaw to chase after the monster’s trail. Next to the permanent perk and the basic customization system, the full roster of characters is unlocked by reaching the mastery level for the skills. This can also be done in solo matches and it applies to the monsters as well.
There are three types of monsters to choose from. Goliath is a durable melee monster. It can charge, use its fire breath, and perform a leap smash or a rock throw. Kraken is a flying monster that attacks from long range using electricity. It has access to aftershock (energy burst), banshee mines, lightning strike and vortex. Wraith is a stealth monster. It uses abduction to get a character away from the team, can create a decoy version of itself, create a supernova (radial destruction along with damage and attack speed buff), and perform a warp blast to teleport and do damage at the same time. Additional characters and monsters are included in special editions of the game or can be bought as DLC. They do no split the community as players who do not own the DLC can still fight the additional characters and monsters, but cannot play them. Additional maps are released for free for all players.
Monsters can feed on wildlife and dead humans to fill an energy meter and evolve. This is used to become stronger, but to evolve they have to enter a cocoon stage for a while that leaves them very vulnerable. Wildlife can attack both sides, influencing the events, and can reveal locations. Both sides can use different types of power-ups and need to use a strategic approach to overcome the opposition.
The game modes are Defend, Hunt, Nest and Rescue. In Defend the humans need to defend a starship’s refueling station by protecting power generators until the ship is fully refueled. The opposition controls a single, fully evolved monster, along with various Goliath minions. The monster must destroy the two generators to reach the ship’s power source before it is refueled. In Hunt the monster wins by killing all humans or by evolving to stage three to destroy a power relay, while the humans merely need to destroy the monster. The monster receives a head start to get away before the humans are dropped. When the monster dies the game is over immediately. When a hunter is killed there is a wait time of three minutes before respawning. In Nest the monster needs to defend six monster eggs somewhere in the environment for ten minutes. The eggs can be hatched to receive help from minions. Humans have ten minutes to destroy all eggs. In Rescue both the humans and the monster go after injured colonists spread over the map. The first to rescue or kill five respectively, wins the session.
Games can be played as Quick Play sessions or in the Evacuation story mode. In the second type each won match in a cycle of five brings an advantage to the next map for that side and it ends with a Defend match. There are different types of maps with distinct themes such as a jungle or using industrial elements.