The object of the game is to rescue the five hostages in the concentration camp. The game is divided into six stages: Communication Setup, Jungle, Village, Powder Magazine, Concentration Camp, and Airport. Completion of each stage advances the story. For example, upon completing the Jungle stage, an enemy leader is interrogated and the location of the enemy's concentration camp is found. This was one of the first shooter games to feature a storyline, and it had some similarities to real special operations missions.
The game is controlled with a positional gun controller attached to the cabinet, with force feedback to simulate recoil. In order to complete each stage, the player must shoot as many soldiers, tanks, jeeps, choppers, and boats as the game requires. Soldiers can throw hand grenades and knives, and vehicles can shoot missiles and launch rockets. The player's ammunition and grenades are limited, but can be stocked up by shooting barrels and crates or by shooting animals such as chickens and pigs. Occasionally a high-powered machine gun power-up appears, allowing the player's gun to have unlimited ammo and an increased rate of fire for 10 seconds.
The player has a damage bar that increases each time they are hit. The damage bar also increases upon shooting a civilian or hostage. Energy boost items randomly appear which, if shot, decrease damage by five points. Once the bar reaches maximum, the game is over.
One of the most ported arcade games of all time, it has seen releases on everything from the CPC to DOS, as well as the NES, and TurboGrafx-16. Most of these ports lack any kind of light gun support and must be played with a keyboard or a controller.
In 2005, Operation Wolf was released on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and Microsoft Windows as part of Taito Legends; however, light gun support is unavailable. On February 4, 2008, the NES version of Operation Wolf was released on the North American Wii Virtual Console. Whereas the NES version allowed NES Zapper support, the VC re-release doesn't feature any kind of light gun support (including the Wii Remote's pointer functions), making the game only playable with the standard controller mode.