I've played more than my fair share of starship combat games, so I thought I'd talk a little bit about cinematic action combat INNNN SPAAAAACE.
Specifically, let's talk about Star Trek Online's strength: their starship combat. While I wouldn't say it's actually superb, it is at least more fun than any other MMORPG's starship combat.
The big strength of their starship combat is the exposed angles system. You have four shield quadrants that take damage separately, and you also have arcs of fire which are distinct depending on the weapon. The result is that you're constantly jockeying to angle your ship so that your intact shields take the brunt of the enemy fire, but also so that your weapon arcs can fire on the enemy. This can get quite hectic depending on the cycle rates of your weapons, how many enemies you're facing, and how fast your turn rate is compared to their speed.
Of course, the topological challenges of trying to put your ship in the right place are only part of the fun. The other half are the long-cooldown/one-use special abilities - usually granted by officers. This isn't like a shmup where your bombs are there to get you out of a tight jam: your officer abilities are part of your core gambit. You go into the middle of the enemy fleet knowing that your engineer can do a shield overcharge and keep you relatively unharmed. You knock down an enemy's facing shield knowing that you can fire an overcharged torpedo down that gap for massive damage.
I was thinking about it. What if we were to build a similar game, but with a bit of my design preferences instead of what they went with?
First off, the vertical maneuvering seems halfhearted. If it was actually part of the gameplay, you'd have dorsal and ventral shields so it could be made part of the orientation play. I think that adding dorsal and ventral shields would complicate things, so what I'll aim for is more like Star Control - a 2D system. The camera will be full 3D, but the space combat happens on a 2D plane. This also allows players to keep a sharper eye on complex tactical situations such as fleet battles, and allows us to overlay arcs on that 2D base plane so you can clearly see who is in what arcs.
This camera/play leaves us with two options: a faster play (like Star Control) or a slower, more tactical play. For cinematic's sake, let's go with the slower play. What's the slower play?
Well, the angle play needs to be more ponderous and predictable. So what we'll do is we'll make it so that your engines have two settings: driving forward very fast without being able to turn much, and not driving forward much at all, but able to turn fast. Switching between the modes leaves you with the worst of both for five or so seconds.
This means that your maneuvering is significantly "heavier" without actually making it any slower. In fact, we can make it feel more fast-paced than STO's movement, even though for our purposes it is tactically "slower", because you can only really adjust position or angle, not both. It also leads to some ships preferring a "torpedo dive" and others preferring to stick and shoot.
The other half is, of course, the shooting. In this I'd propose using the mouse to click on the part of the map you want to fire on. Your fire angles are clearly displayed, so you just click on a ship within one of those firing angles, and you'll fire all those weapons at it. Maybe left-click for one weapon type and right-click for the other.
Rather than have distinct regen cycles, I would propose that you can hold down the mouse key to perform sustained fire - whether this means a continuous beam of energy or a long slew of torpedoes. However, sustained fire will quickly shake, heat, or drain that weapon, meaning it gets weaker or less accurate the longer you fire the shot... and takes longer to recover to full afterwards. So it's always a tradeoff - do you prefer lots of little stings? Is it time to go in with a barrage? Are you close enough that the lower accuracy will be okay?
This allows starship captains to have more control over the timing of their weapons - instead of a simple counter where you're wasting time if you aren't firing them every three seconds, this lets captains choose to hold their fire in the heat of battle and gain a benefit: better/longer firepower when they need it.
Now, about those crew.
The heart of any cinematic starship battle system is, in my opinion, how you work the crew in. Human faces are critical. Even in STO, you never see them... even though in Star Trek OFFline, every battle is at least half faces. Here's my suggestion:
Every crew member generates a tactical option at a specific rate, depending on level, specialty, stats, and exhaustion. This rate is never very fast - at fastest, you're looking at 30 seconds. Once a crewmember has generated a tactical option, they are ready to use it, and will recover exhaustion slowly if you wait. Using the tactical option, of course, creates loads more exhaustion.
When you tap a crewmember (presumably linked to the number keys), you are telling them to take their tactical option. They are clear about what they can do up-front, so you always know what tactical option they've generated. When a tactical option enters play, the battle freezes (or slows to a crawl) while the top half of the screen is replaced with a view of that ship's captain telling that specific crew member what to do - it's maybe five seconds at longest.
IE, I tap my navigator. The screen pops up with me saying "Sulu, microjump behind the Defiant, let's end this."
During the time the cut scene is playing, other ships may trigger their own tactical options. This isn't first-come first-served - out of everyone who taps a tactical option during the scene, the one with the highest priority (closest to target ship) will happen.
So if you see my cutscene playing, you can counter by, say, tapping your weapons officer. "Mzikk, they're coming in for a taste, give them the full course!" This means that my cutscene on the top half of the screen is shunted to the bottom-left, and your cutscene takes the top screen... but the tapping could continue, each time squeezing the original cutscenes down.
"The Enterprise is walking into a trap. Put us between them." Same kind of maneuver, but because the cutscene makes the tactical situation transparent, the system adapts it to be better aimed.
When the cutscene chain finishes, there is a quick few seconds of automation while the involved ships perform their various maneuvers (each only takes a few seconds, and often happen simultaneously). Then battle resumes.
Another key element is that you can tap different crew at the same time. For example, if I tap Mr. Sulu and command him to get behind the Defiant, before that cutscene is up I can tap my weapon's guy and the cutscene continues, cutting to me turning slightly and saying "Then, Lt., give us a full salvo right up his backside!"
At no point is the battle actually removed from the screen - it occupies the lower-right quadrant at all times.
Anyway, I think it sounds like it'd be fun!