The idea is simple – you run around an assortment of cities, stabbing your opponents in the back and using every means at your disposal to deceive.

While you’re mindful that harming the general public isn’t a good thing, their safety must not be allowed to stand in the way of your ambition to come out on top.

So that’s the UK’s 2010 election campaign summed up then. Coincidentally, it’s also an apt description of Assassin’s Creed II: Multiplayer.

Whereas Assassin's Creed II: Discovery is a lush, side-scrolling, pseudo 3D platformer, its multiplayer companion is a top-down take on good old deathmatch. Taken as such, your initial impression of the game may well be the same as my own: disappointment.

Master of deception

Your first task, having been placed in one of the game’s maps along with three opponents, is to hop on top of a nearby building to obtain an assassination contract. This instantly reveals the game’s awkward control system.

Rather than providing a virtual analogue stick, you must tap on the screen to set your assassin scurrying to that location. It’s a method more commonly seen in adventure games; used here in a competitive action game it never fully clicks.

These control shortcomings are especially evident when trying to climb, either onto a building or out of a river. You have to deliberately and laboriously manoeuvre to the precise access point before pressing forward to make your ascent.

Successful hit

Nevertheless, extended time with Assassin's Creed II: Multiplayer reveals a subtly rewarding game of cat and mouse.

Once you have your contract (read: one of your online opponents) secured, the game becomes a matter of stealthy approach and careful deduction.

With an image of your target in the upper-left corner and an arrow showing their general location, you must make your way towards them while keeping an eye out for other players attempting to do the same to you. The rooftops are littered with power-ups that can aid your approach or escape.

You can run by double-tapping on the screen, but this acts as a dead give away among the milling computer-controlled crowds (who all conform to one of four types). It's much better to blend in if possible, with the best tactic being to follow behind an identical-looking civilian.

The reason this is so advantageous is that once a player nears their prey, the pointer disappears, and it’s up to your powers of deduction to determine which of the figures on the screen is the target. Attack a civilian and you not only lose points, but give yourself away in the process.

Cautious recommendation

Select the correct one though, and your opponent will be offed in a cartoonish splash of claret, awarding you 10 points.

It has to be said that the moments of action are fairly clunky owing to the unusual control system, though the satisfaction that comes from executing a clean hit is undeniably potent.

Play continues in this way until time runs out, at which point your points are totted up and your profile updated. This persistent profile reflects the kind of role-playing elements that have enhanced the best online shooters, as do the achievements that can be unlocked for completing various deeds.

It’s this persistent progress, with an overall notoriety rank linked to your profile, that may keep you coming back to Assassin’s Creed II: Multiplayer despite the clunky nature of the action.

Novel execution

Alongside this, the major thing going for the game is its sense of novelty. There aren’t many decent competitive online arena games available on the iPhone, and even fewer that reward stealth and cunning over sharp reflexes.

To that degree Ubisoft should be commended for providing something different. However, the core movement and the combat system that underlies the action are just too clunky and unsatisfying for us to recommend the game unreservedly.

Hence Assassin’s Creed II: Multiplayer is the kind of experience that will be loved by a sizeable minority, but will barely earn a second look from those seeking something a little more finely honed for their online kicks.