It’s that time of year again, when we look back and remember those games that stood out as being exceptional. For the most part, 2008 will be remembered as the year of sequels.

After all, it was sequels that catapulted the year into the record books thanks to strong sales of "Madden NFL 09," "Grand Theft Auto IV," "Gears of War 2," "Fallout 3," "Soul Calibur IV" – and the list goes on and on.

It’s also a year dominated by Nintendo, which continues to have success with both Wii and Nintendo DS. For the most part, that success hasn’t translated to Wii sales outside of Nintendo first-party games like "Mario Kart Wii," "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" and "Wii Play" – all of which were best sellers in ’08.

Rather than doing a traditional Top 10 list, I’m breaking down five games that stood out in the very crowded year. I’ll add another five later this week as we usher in a new year.

It’s worth noting that there have been a lot of great games this year and that the industry remains strong despite the economic hard times. It also bodes well that two of the five games below have local North Carolina connections, a result of the booming local games community.

"Gears of War 2" managed to deliver on all of its promises and showcase the latest advances in the most popular game engine in the world today, Unreal Engine 3. Despite the overwhelming hype that had built up for two years, Cary-based Epic Games crafted a sequel with a more emotional and more action-packed single-player and cooperative experience, while upping the ante in the multiplayer by adding two additional players to the competitive modes.

They also created one of the most addictive game modes ever with Horde, a one- to five-player shootout against wave after wave of Locusts. With new online levels already delivered, Epic will keep this game updated while gamers await the third installment.

"Grand Theft Auto IV" is one of the most detailed open-world games ever made. Gamers are handed the key to Liberty City, as well as plenty of weapons, and invited to explore a living, breathing city. The GTA franchise has never been the most beautiful game in past installments, but this jump to next gen has finally made a level playing field between the deep storyline that hooks players and the visuals that bring the game world to life. Xbox 360 owners get to continue the experience with new downloadable episodes beginning with "The Lost and the Damned" in February.

Insomniac Games just opened a studio in Durham to work on new games. But the Burbank, Calif.-based studio has another mammoth hit with "Resistance 2." This sci-fi shooter helped Sony sell PlayStation 3s. It also served up a shooter experience completely different from "Gears 2." "Resistance 2" introduced 60-player online gameplay for the first time ever and used squads to allow these huge battlefields to have cohesion versus chaos. The game also introduced an eight-player co-op campaign that offered a parallel story to the intense single-player campaign.

"Pure" stood out in a racing genre crowded with off-road entries, especially since it came from Disney Interactive Studios. From a pure adrenaline experience, nothing competes with the in-air tricks that players can perform high above the photo-realistic mountains, forests and deserts in this game. Players can build ATVs from scratch and then take to the trails, or off the beaten path, and soar through elaborate jumps to get serious hang-time – perfect for performing gravity-defying stunts. Whether gaming alone or with 15 other competitors online, the action is always fast and furious.

"Dead Space" stood out in a sequel-dominated 2008 as one horrifying shooter. Electronic Arts created the scariest sci-fi story since the original "Alien" with this tale of terror aboard a deserted cargo ship. The game, which is best played in the dark, introduced "strategic dismemberment" and unloaded multi-limbed monstrosities that continue to come at you until you’ve hacked, slashed and shot every last tentacle and appendage. There’s simply no game that serves up a better horror atmosphere than this addictive shooter. EA’s already working on a sequel.