Play-by-play announcer Mike Adamle called Assault "the game of hit or be hit." The contender had 60 seconds to make it through a course that spanned the entire arena floor, firing off weapons to hit a target located near a Gladiator, while avoiding high-speed tennis balls fired at them by the Gladiator through an air cannon. The contender could complete the course by hitting the target witrh a weapon or by escaping the course, and lost if they were hit by the Gladiator's tennis balls or did not complete the course in 60 seconds. The weapons were in safe zones that offered some protection while aiming and firing the weapon, but the safe zones were such that the contender had to expose some part of their body while aiming and firing and thus could be hit. Although they changed in construction once during the run, from the second half of Season 1 until the end of the series the safezones were nothing more than normal barriers to hide behind; the first half of season one featured safezones that were supposed to emulate places you could fire weapons from (a pillbox, a burnt-out building, a thatch bush, and two barrels).
In the first half of season one, the contender had four weapons to fire. In order, they were an air powered rocket launcher, an air-powered ball cannon, a special effects pistol that fired a glitter shot, and two hand grenades filled with glitter that exploded on impact. The target was located to the Gladiator's side, and the contenders always started at the first safe zone with the rocket launcher in their hands ready to fire. If a contender fired all the weapons without hitting the target or being hit, he or she could take cover in the last safe zone until time expired and earn 30 points for a draw if he or she was not hit in the intervening time (Several contenders were hit by sharp-shooting Gladiators while taking cover in the third safe zone, which was hard to do considering the design of that safe zone was to make it as hard for the Gladiator to see a contender as possible.). Hitting the target's outer rim earned 60 points (later 75), and a bull's-eye hit earned 100. When hit, a hidden pyrotechnic charge exploded at the base of the Gladiator's platform, releasing a flurry of dirt and rocks, giving the appearance of a landmine exploding, plus some red/white strobelights.
For the second half of season one and continuing on, the course was redesigned to look more modern. A fifth safe zone was added at the beginning of the course with a crossbow, and (in season four only) the safe zones had numbers clearly visible on them. Also, the target was moved to above the Gladiator's head, a finish line was added at the end of the course with the contender having to cross it within the allotted time to earn credit for a draw, and instead of starting at the first safe zone with a weapon in had a player was required to run to the first safe zone to fire a weapon.
Until the end of season two, earning the draw gave the contender four points. The target hit points were 7 for the outer rim, and 10 for the bull's eye. Here, due to the redesign, the "landmine" was redone with pyrotechnic reports (explosions) and a lot of smoke, somewhat of a precursor to a later smoke cannon. Said cannon was introduced in season two, and in place of the "landmine" the cannon itself went up in smoke after the target was hit.
Starting in season three, 10 points were awarded for hitting any portion of the target; if the contestant ran out of time or was hit, one point was given for each weapon the contender managed to fire and a bonus point was awarded for completing the course without getting hit (for a total of 6 points). As in the previous season and a half, all a contender had to do was cross the finish line at the end of the course to earn the draw; beginning in season 5 an actuator was placed at the end of the course and the player had to hit it without being hit by the Gladiator to get credit for the draw.
The starting position for the Assault course changed over the course of the series, changing the likelihood of contenders being hit before reaching the first safe zone. In the first half of season 1, a player would start at the first safe zone. From the second half of season 1 until season 7, a contender would start on the stair entrance furthest from the first safe zone (during the second half of season 1, this was changed to the closest steps in some episodes for unexplained reasons). In season 7, due to the changed look of the arena, the furthest staircase was moved near the center of the arena, giving the gladiator less time to hit a contender before they were able to reach the first safe zone). Similarly, in the 2008 revival, the contender enters from the center of the arena, which is usually in the area of the Pyramid.
The safe zones were located on opposite ends of the floor such that the contender had to enter the Gladiator's unobstructed line of fire to get to each zone. The contender did have a very short wall for protection in traveling from the last safe zone to the finish line, as he or she was already very close to the Gladiator's cannon by this point.
In the 2008 revival, small barriers were added between some stations that provided extra cover to the contenders.
In the first season of the 2008 revival, contenders began the event with a ball in hand, which they carried to the first safe zone to load into a slingshot and fire. The second safe zone featured a cannon in a turret that contenders had to rotate, load, and fire. At the third safe zone, instead of having a weapon to fire, contenders dug through a sandbox for an arrow; finding the arrow earned a point. Contenders could then activate a smoke screen for protection in getting to the fourth safe zone, where they loaded the arrow into a crossbow, and fire. There was a fifth station, but no first-season contestant completed it.
For the second season of the revival, all weapons except the slingshot are pre-loaded and the turret no longer has to be rotated into position. The third safe zone still features a sandbox but the arrow search was replaced with a Bazooka for the contender to fire. The fifth zone was revealed to have three balls that the contender would throw at the target, all three balls must be thrown for the contender to complete the safe zone.
In both seasons of the revival, contenders earn 10 points for hitting any part of the target, or one point for each safe zone successfully completed. In addition, the gladiator is launched backwards into the water, and two massive pyrotechnic charges go off should the contender hit the target. In addition, the Gladiator could also be launched if the contender pressed the button located at the end of the course.
According to the commentary on the season 1 DVD set, most of the gladiators did not like Assault because it lacked direct contact with the contenders.
Assault Course configurations over the years:
|Season||Station 1||Station 2||Station 3||Station 4||Station 5||Draw Criteria||Target Hit Result|
|1a||Rocket launcher||Ball cannon||Glitter pistol||2 or 3 glitter bombs (Hand Grenades)||None||Last 60 seconds without getting hit at final safezone||"Landmine" with rocks,dirt,and glitter|
|1b||Crossbow||Rocket launcher||Ball cannon||Ball rifle (different from S1a pistol)||3 Blank "dud" hand grenades||Must cross finish line within 60 second time limit||Pyrotechnics at foot of Gladiator platform|
|2||Crossbow||Rocket launcher||Ball cannon||Ball rifle ||3 softballs||Must cross finish line within time limit||A smoke cannon shoots the Gladiator and their cannon|
|3 and early 4||Crossbow||Rocket launcher||Ball cannon||Rocket rifle/Ball rifle||Pump gun||Must cross finish line within time limit||Smoke cannon in front of Gladiator|
|Later 4||Ball rifle||Rocket launcher||Ball cannon||Crossbow||2 soft balls||Must cross finish line within time limit||Smoke cannon in front of Gladiator|
|5-7||Crossbow||Rocket launcher (redesigned)||Ball cannon||Arrow rifle||2 soft balls||Must hit buzzer at end of course within time limit||Smoke cannon shoots Gladiator|
|1||Slingshot||Turret Cannon||Rocket search/Smokescreen||Rocket crossbow rifle||3 balls, must be deployed with a button||Press button at end of course within time limit||Gladiator is launched back through false pyrotechnics into pool of water|
|2||Slingshot||Cannon (no longer rotates)||Bazooka/smokescreen||Rocket crossbow rifle||3 balls, must be deployed with a button||Press button at end of course within time limit||Same as Season 1|